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Easter’s Holy Saturday, a Uniquely Greek Orthodox Celebration

Nafplio, Greece

Greeks celebrate Holy Saturday as the First Resurrection, when Christ brought salvation to the dead. After evening services in Nafplio, people spill out onto the main square. At midnight, fireworks mark the start of Easter. People light candles and head home for a feast.

Complete Video Script

Holy Saturday is the day Christ’s body lay in the tomb while his followers mourned. In Western Christian traditions, it's a time of thoughtfulness and waiting…of vigils. But in the Orthodox Christian world — like here in Greece — Holy Saturday is a celebration of what Jesus’ soul accomplished on that day.

On Saturday morning, the Greeks pack their church yet again to remember how, while his disciples were mourning on earth, Jesus descended into Hades, bringing salvation to the souls of the dead. That’s why Greeks call this Saturday the “First Resurrection.”

Worshippers venerate an icon of Jesus pulling Adam and Eve out of the fires of hell. This is the pivotal moment when Christ has defeated the devil and death.

The priest has changed out of his mournful black vestments and into hopeful white ones. Much happier and more animated now, he tosses dried flower petals — representing the broken chains of hell — over all gathered.

Late Saturday night, the people spill from their churches and fill the main square yet again — this time with a palpable sense of expectation.

It’s almost midnight and Easter Sunday is just a couple minutes away. Here in Greece, people can hardly wait to celebrate the Resurrection. On this day, Christians everywhere fill the churches and the squares, and they declare with great joy: “Christ is risen…He is risen indeed.”

When midnight strikes, fireworks light up the sky and, finally, Easter Sunday is here. The Holy Flame, which literally travels from Jerusalem to Athens, and then to towns throughout Greece, is shared along with the ritual Easter “kiss of love.” And it’s not over yet. Everyone then heads home for the biggest party of the season.

People carry the Easter flame home as a burning candle. Raising it above their heads, they make a cross above the doorway symbolizing that the light of the Resurrection has blessed their home for another year.

A long table awaits as the extended family gathers. They have a competition to find out whose Easter egg will be the strongest. Sighs of disappointment from losers are mixed with the laughter of winners until the proud victor — who’ll enjoy a particularly blessed upcoming year — is declared.

Traditional holiday dishes — like a thick lamb entrail soup — are devoured. It’s a joyous family gathering. The feast continues into the wee hours of Easter Sunday with lots of meat and eggs, and no shortage of Easter bread.