Easter in Sifnos
Tradition and customs that you will see in Sifnos
Easter 2017 (16th of April)
Orthodox Easter is a festival and holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, described in the New Testament as having occurred on the third day of his burial after his crucifixion by Romans at Calvary c. 30 AD. It is the culmination of the Passion of Christ, preceded by Lent (or Great Lent), a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and penance.
The week before Easter is called Holy Week, and it contains the days of the Easter Triduum, including Maundy Thursday, commemorating the Maundy and Last Supper, as well as Good Friday, commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
The preparations for Easter in Sifnos start early and the island wears its best! In the settlements, volunteers and housewives (the so-called “chiones”, snow-whites) whitewash the houses and the chapels and “refresh” the joints of the paved streets, so that everything is shiny and ready to welcome the joyful message of the Resurrection. Nature, present in this great celebration, paints the mountain slopes with colorful wildflowers and poppies. Religious traditions and celebrations are dominant in all settlements of the island.
Easter in Sifnos is a celebration that the residents of the island generously share with the visitors.
Church services are carried out throughout the Holy Week in the central churches of most settlements, with the participation of many faithful people.
In the morning of Holy Thursday, the alleys of the settlements will be flooded with the aromas of the fresh-baked “Easter-birds”. These are traditional sweet buns that have the shape of a bird or the shape of other animals and are often decorated with a red egg. They are the traditional “birds of Easter”. You will find them in all bakeries and they do worth to try them.
At night, during the Matins of Good Friday in which the Divine Drama of the Crucifixion is represented and the Gospels that describe the events from the arrest up to the burial of Christ are read, the bells throughout the island ring mournfully giving weight to the climate of the Divine drama. After the Divine Liturgy, the women of the settlement will remain in the church to decorate the Epitaph with flowers that they have brought from their gardens. If you wish, you too can participate in the decoration. They will gladly accept you.
In the morning of Good Friday, the Deposition from the cross takes place. It’s worth visiting some of the island's settlements and admire the adorned – but so different between them - epitaphs. The distances are small and the visit in the settlements that day is a unique experience. Walk the cobbled streets of Kato Petali Pano Petali, Apollonia, Exambela, Artemonas, Katavati, Agios Loukas, Kamares and Kastro and admire their beauty.
In the evening, the procession of the Epitaph is carried out in a truly devout atmosphere with the faithful chanting as they follow the procession around the streets of the settlements.
The Epitaphs of Artemonas (Panagia Kohi), Agios Loukas (Taxiarchis) and Pano Petali (Agios Ioannis), after passing through the narrow streets of their settlements, accompanied by locals and visitors, will meet in the central square of Artemonas where the prayer is performed. The epitaphs of Apollonia, Katavati and Exambela will meet at “Arades”.
Particularly interesting is the procession of the Epitaph in Kato Petali as, according to custom, large bonfires are lit, the so-called “kapsalous” in various places from where the Epitaph will pass. Here, after the cherubim, the epitaph and the clergy, a believer follows who reads aloud one by one the verses of praise of the epitaph anthem.
In Kastro, the procession is relatively short as it starts from the metropolis of the settlement i.e. Agia Eleousa and ends through the narrow alleys in the two small churches of the picturesque cemetery of the settlement, of Agios Ioannis o Prodromos and Agios Stefanos, where the prayer is performed .The atmosphere is truly unique.
Finally, particularly interesting as well is the procession carried out in the port of Sifnos i.e. Kamares. Things here are a little different. The settlement may be lacking in streets, it boasts, however, a gorgeous sea. As such, if the weather allows it, after the procession of the epitaph onshore, the epitaph is taken into a caïque boat and accompanied by other boats the procession is continued by the sea!
In all the settlements, at several points during the procession, men hold up the Epitaph calling the faithful to pass underneath. The faithful pass under the epitaph one or three times (in total) in order to have a good year ahead!
And Big Saturday dawns! After the first Resurrection, the atmosphere is already lighter. Now, the preparations for the Easter dinner begin (“the mastelo”) which will be eaten on the same night. In Sifnos, the festive Easter table takes place after the end of the Resurrection Liturgy, on the night of Big Saturday. The lamb or goat pieces are washed only with red wine, salt and pepper and flavored with plenty of dill or fennel. The lamb pieces are placed in a special ceramic pot with a narrow bottom and very wide opening, the so-called mastelo. At the bottom of the mastelo, vines shoots are placed crosswise, preventing the lamb to touch the bottom. Thus, the meat will cook in its steams and in the steams of the wine. By Saturday noon, all Sifnians have placed their mastelo in the wooden ovens to cook.
In the evening, Sifnians are getting ready to go the Divine Liturgy of the Resurrection. No matter which church you will choose to attend the Resurrection Liturgy one thing is sure, your nostrils will party in the aromas of the braising mastelo which flood the narrow streets of Sifnos.
As in the entire Greece, here too, after “Christ is Risen” a fusillade of fireworks follows that illuminate and color the sky. As the distances between the settlements of Sifnos are small, it’s worth to choose a spot in the courtyard of the church that will allow you to admire the fireworks thrown by the parishioners of the nearby churches.
The church which offers a panoramic view is Agios Ioannis in Pano Petali, from where you will see and enjoy the “resurrection moment i.e. Christ is Risen” of Kastro, Kato Petali Exambela, Katavati, Apollonia, and you will surely hear the “Christ is Risen” coming from Agios Loukas and Artemonas!
Although many faithful will remain in church after the “Christ is Risen” to attend the entire Resurrection Divine Liturgy, many will leave to go home or to a restaurant for the traditional Easter “mastelo”, escorted by mageiritsa soup (made of lamp offal) or meat soup. Melopita (gingerbread) is usually offered as dessert. It is a traditional Easter dessert made with honey and anthotyra (local cheese that resembles to cream cheese) flavored with cinnamon.
And Easter day has arrived! It’s worth to attend the Agapi Vespers Service, carried out in the Monastery of Vrysi at 11 am with exceptional splendor and with the united participation of the clergy of the island. Take your candle or your Easter candle, which you will have lighted during the Service, and if you want, you can leave it in the church to burn completely. At the end of the Service, the priest will offer a red egg in every believer to crack it with the others.
In the afternoon of Easter Sunday at the main square of Apollonia or Artemonas, the custom of the Burning of Judas takes place, an effigy of Judas made of fabric, wood, and straw, which after they wander it in the neighborhoods they deliver it to the flames in a festive atmosphere.
For many years now, during Easter, the Cultural Association of Sifnos organizes old games representational events such as the “tsounia” (a game resembling to bowling and its roots may lay in the period of the Franks) and “kounistres”, improvised swings where young men will swing their loved ones.
You don’t need to be a fanatic of religious traditions to visit Sifnos at Easter. The whole island is dancing in summer rhythms. Most shops are open and the entertainment options are many in all settlements. Cafés, bars, restaurants, shopping stores are all ready to welcome you.
Stroll the cobblestone streets all hours of the day and enjoy your drink either at central settlements or by the sea.
At Easter, “live” events with small bands are organized and the fun lasts till morning.
Take a swimsuit with you because if the weather allows it, you can take your first swim.
During Easter nature lends the island a riot of colors! The landscape is evergreen with colorful splashes from countless flowers. Purple and white amaranths, meadows of daisies and poppies, sedges and violets set the scene.
Besides, it is one of the best seasons for walking as the weather is nice, the day is bigger and the temperature perfect! Discover the hidden beauties of the place by walking one of the many trails. Cobbled trails, dirt trails, easy or difficult, select the one that suits you and it is certain that you will be charmed!
Do not forget to bring shoes appropriate for walking (sports shoes or shoes for mountaineering).