Tag Archives: Greek Orthodox Church

Midnight Mass on Greek Easter

Text: Well you know, there’s a lot of traditions in the church and such. I mean we don’t really go to church a lot so I don’t remember that well. But, on Greek Easter there’s Midnight Mass. You know you go to church around 11pm and when you get there you buy a candle – it’s supposed to be a donation to the church. They’re usually not expensive. Some people bring their own candles, but not a lot. People also tend to dress up because it’s a big holiday in the church. You go in, there’s a service, it’s usually pretty crowded. They go through it kind of like a regular service, but sometimes with special passages or things they read for Easter. The priest talks about things. And then around maybe 11:45, everyone stands, and they turn off all the lights in the church so it’s completely dark. The altar boys and the priests start lighting everyone’s candles and then you kind of pass the light down all the rows lighting each other’s candles, until the whole church is kind of lit up, bright from the candlelight. Then everyone sings, and the kind of chant you know Christos Anesti, Christ has risen. Alithos Anesti, yes he has. And I think the idea is that Christ is rising at midnight and around midnight they open the doors and everyone files outside with their candles, talks to each other, it’s very pretty really.  

Context: M was born and raised in Southern California. Both his parents are of Greek descent, he is a second-generation American on his mother’s side and a third-generation American on his father’s side. M does not actively practice Greek Orthodoxy, but does consider himself a Christian. 
Analysis: The phrases Christos Anesti and Alithos Anesti are also used as a greeting and a goodbye during Easter time by Greek people. Easter, the day when Christ rises after having been crucified and entombed for three days, is as M notes one of the most important holidays in the church. It is preceded by lent, beginning on Clean Monday, which follows through to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (on which lent ends). Lent is supposed to be a time of fasting and often followers of the Christian faith attempt to give up something which is not good for them, or do something good for them which is typically personally difficult. Each of these holy days have a different service and tradition associated with them in the Greek Church. The midnight mass M describes takes place on Holy Saturday and is followed by an early breakfast after the church service on Sunday to break the fast from lent. The Orthodox Easter midnight mass mirrors the Christmas midnight mass which occurs on Christmas Eve. The candles M describes are often bought for children by their god parents, and represent Christ’s resurrection, or Christ’s light– his transition from the darkness of the tomb to the light of the world.

Red Egg Game

Text: Okay so growing up like we would celebrate Greek Easter, some people also call it Orthodox Easter, and it’s on a different calendar than regular Easter. American Easter? Christian Easter? I mean Greek Orthodox is still Christian, but you know what I mean. Sometimes it’s the same day, but usually it’s different. Anyways, on Greek Easter we do this thing where we dye eggs red, hard boiled eggs. And then we play a game with them. Everyone gets a red egg, and basically you take the ends of the egg, like the long ends, the pointy ones and you crack yours against someone else’s. Whoevers egg doesn’t crack keeps going and cracks their egg against more people’s. Sometimes for little kids they let them do both ends of the egg because they get sad when there’s breaks early. Whoever has the last egg that’s not broken at the end of the game gets good luck for the year. Sometimes my cousins would cheat though, they would break the end off of a fork or get like a toothpick and hide it under their hand where they grabbed the egg. Then they would poke the other person’s egg with it to crack it, but not hit theirs on it. The adults used to say that you don’t get good luck if you win by cheating though. It ruins the game. 

Context: S is 18 years old and was raised in Southern California. Growing up she attended holiday services at the Greek Church in Long Beach, California. Her father is of Greek descent, but her mother is not. 

Analysis: The alternate calendar S discusses in the beginning is the Julian calendar which the Orthodox church uses as opposed to the Gregorian calendar to determine Easter each year. The game typically takes place on Easter Sunday, at the celebrations after the Sunday service has concluded. Bringing the red eggs is usually someone’s contribution to the celebration as opposed to bringing a dish of food or bottle of wine. S also mentioned that often children assist their families in dyeing them. While red has different meanings in different cultures, in the case of the dyed Easter eggs they are meant to represent the blood of Christ and his resurrection. It’s interesting to note that there are also several Catholic sources online that state that Mary Magdalene, one of Christ’s followers, went to the Emperor to beg him to open Christ’s tomb, and that he declared it was as likely Jesus had risen as the egg in her hand was to turn red. However, all of these sources fail to cite a Bible verse. Perhaps, this is a folk story or belief that has been passed down. It is also interesting that S describes some of her cousins cheating to win the game, as in Van Genup’s Rites of Passage he specifies how rituals can fail and must be done correctly. Thus, when the cousins fail to perform the ritual game under the correct rules, they fail to earn good luck for the year.

Symbolizing that Christ Has Risen Through Greek Easter Eggs

The informant shared a Greek Easter tradition of cracking red eggs with me, while her younger sister provided supporting information. The game starts with every member of a family receiving an egg, and then cracking it against someone else’s egg. Whoever’s egg remains un-cracked at the end of the game receives good luck for the year.

Informant: The Greek eggs are dyed red because it signifies the blood of christ… the red… and um they can only be dyed red on Thursday… Maundy-Thursday. And also when you crack the eggs … when you crack the eggs it’s like Christ being released from the tomb

Support: the shell symbolizes the tomb 

Me: Do you practice this every year for easter?

Informant: Yes, yes. The interesting thing is that depending on the calendar. Sometimes Greek Easter and regular Easter are the same day. And other times it can be as many as  4 weeks apart?

Support: Yes, Greek easter has to be after the Passover and it has to be the first full moon of the month

Informant: After the first full moon

Support: Yes after, there has to be Passover and then after the first full moon. It has to be after that. Because the last supper was a Passover dinner, so we’re on a different calendar. We’re not on the Gregorian calendar, we’re on the Julian Calendar.

Informant: But in the American tradition, Easter is the same time as Passover because that’s when Jesus went into Jerusalem was before the Passover. But the Greeks have a different date for the Passover I guess.

Support: It’s because we’re on a different calendar. But it can’t be celebrated before, so those two things.. Passover and the full moon dictate when we celebrate.  



The Informant is a Greek woman who was born in the United States. She currently lives in Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA. Though she was not born in Greece, her parents immigrated to the US and she was born into a very Greek community in Phoenix, AZ. The performance was held during an Easter party, in front of her younger sister, who provided supporting information, as well as me.

Being part Greek, I have always been aware of the ‘Red Egg’ tradition my family practices during Easter. However, I never knew how in depth it went as a cultural practice. For me, it was just a game where the winner would receive good luck for the year, but as I talked with the informant I discovered that it was so much more. The tradition represents the many different components of Easter in one unified ritual.


For more information on Greek Easter eggs and why they are dyed red, you can reference page 25 of Greece by Gina DeAngelis.