How they Celebrate Holy Week in the Cyclades

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Good Friday Celebrated with a Series of Byzantine Tableaux Vivants

There are many reasons to love the holiday of Easter. Here is mine: while Christmas nowadays is more or less the same everywhere – a truly globalized event, celebrated from Alaska to Zimbabwe with decorated pine trees, Silent Night and a jolly fat man in red pyjamas – Easter has managed to preserve its diversity, its many ancient faces and flavours.

The Philippines have their flagellants, Seville has its local chapel of the Ku-Klux Clan, while the Brits merrily roll Easter eggs down the hill, and there is only a small risk that you could mistake one country’s tradition for the others’. On Easter, you always know where you are.

We are currently in Greece to do some easy hiking on the beautiful island of Paros in the Cyclades, where we had the privilege of witnessing the Good Friday celebrations in the village of Marpissa.


Marpissa is a small place, even by local standards, counting fewer than 800 souls on an island with a total population of 17,000 permanent residents. One night every year, however, half the island seems to crowd into Marpissa’s narrow lanes to look at a series of tableaux vivants where local villagers take up the poses of the characters in famous Byzantine icons, a sort of Greek Oberammergau without action, words or straggly beards.

There are 17 such tableaux every year, scattered throughout Marpissa’s village centre, and the procession – featuring local islanders as well as visitors from mainland Greece and all over the world – starts at the main church after the Good Friday service at around 10 p.m. The stations of the procession resemble an extended way of the cross, building up from Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday …

"first of 17 Byzantine Tableaux Vivants presented on Good Friday in Paros"

… via the Last Supper …

"the Last Supper as one of the 17 Byzantine Tableaux Vivants presented on Good Friday in Paros"

… and the moment where Pontius Pilate tells the crowd that he “has a fwiend in Wome”

"Pontius Pilates in 1 of the 17 Byzantine Tableaux Vivants presented on Good Friday in Paros"

… to the lamentation and descent from the cross.

"Jesus carried down the cross in one of the 17 Byzantine Tableaux Vivants presented on Good Friday in Paros"

The “actors”, all volunteers from the village and neighbouring towns, have to hold their poses for at least one hour (depending on the length of the procession), rain or shine. Or blow, one might add, with reference to the blustery northerly wind which made the conditions on Friday much more unfriendly than you would expect them to be at such southern latitudes in late April.

Only once in living memory, by the way, on a particularly cold and wet night a few years ago, did the organizers consider to call the whole thing off, but even then, they ultimately decided to go ahead and let all participants brace the rain.

The biggest mishap our knowledgeable and charming guide Christina – until last year a regular member of the cast herself – could remember was the time when an overexcited donkey refused to carry Jesus into Jerusalem and opted instead to run off into the night, to much hilarity presumably, Good Friday or not. (It seems that they do not know their W.C. Fields in Marpissa – otherwise they might have remembered that it is never a good idea to share a stage with children and animals, not even for Jesus Christ.)

Marpissa’s Good Friday celebrations go back to a village school tradition: about a hundred years ago, a school teacher thought that it would be a good idea to involve children at an early age into the preparations for the holiest day of the year. Even today, many children and, perhaps even more surprisingly, many people in their teens and twenties are actively involved in the festivities. After the procession is over, at around midnight, the local youths then assemble in the bars and nightclubs of the near-by coastal resorts to celebrate Easter their own way – the modern part of an old tradition.

We thank Mr George Bafitis, owner/manager of Hotel Kalypso (and who also happens to be the President of the Paros Hotel Association) for his warm hospitality.

Follow our discoveries of the island as guests of the Municipality of Paros (under the wings of the town’s Deputy Mayor Mrs Maria Chanioti) as we explore and enjoy the Cyclades.

Get our free updates via email, or follow us on Facebook and on Twitter by watching out for the hashtags #LoveCYCLADES #LovePAROS.


15 comments to How they Celebrate Holy Week in the Cyclades

  • I like the photo with the main church in Marpissa.

  • Sounds like a wonderful and unique experience! Pretty interesting that the town is so involved and will even hold their pose for an hour. How the traditions for the same holiday are so different is always interesting. Thanks for sharing this!

  • What a lovely post! I totally agree with you re well preserved diversity of Easter versus globalized Christmas (or Xmas how they call it in the US and nobody knows what was it all about). I would love to witness Greek celebrations! It sounds really cool. We have our own set of celebrations in Poland and this is my favorite part of the year. I think this is a great idea to follow some local celebrations to learn the world!

  • What a wonderful way to remember Good Friday and in such a unique way too. This was such an interesting read and probably one of the best ways to honor this holy day. Those actors are admirable for their passion and dedication but most of all the standing still for at least one hour. Love the pictures and I’m so glad you got to experience this. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • It was amazing, and what made it even more amazing is the fact that the young villagers (kids and teen-agers) all seem to be keen in participating year after year, Sophie.

  • In Greece, they seem to take their Easter seriously, if not more seriously than Christmas, Vera.

  • That is very true, Leigh.

  • It was an amazing spectacle, Jeff. We were really lucky to have participated in it (in the procession of course)

  • How fascinating!! You know, every Christmas, I seek out new customs and traditions surrounding the holiday throughout Europe but never thought too much about Easter until now! It must have been profoundly moving to witness all of these scenes staged right before your eyes and most astonishingly of all is the fact that that actors remain posed in their settings for so long. What a joy it must be to celebrate Easter in this land! I bet Christmas is another spectacle as well. These are exactly the kinds of moments I seek out in my travels and you are extremely fortunate to have witnessed all of it. Thank you for sharing new customs and new traditions with me!

  • What you said is very true about Easter being celebrated so individually by cities & countries.Greece with its strong Easter traditions would be a great place to see over the Easter period.
    I don’t blame the donkey trying to escape.

  • I love Greece with a passion and have been to many different places. Re your #loveCyclades–the number one perfect hiking island is Siphnos, where until relatively recently there was no way to get between some of the villages except on foot. Now there are roads everywhere, but the ancient paths are still there, and well mapped for great (easy) hiking.
    And re: Easter–although I’ve been to Greece five times, I’ve never managed to be there at Easter, and am hoping that I’ll still be able to add that wonderful experience to my list. Lucky you. And Lucky Jackie.

  • Sounds like a wonderful and interesting experience. Easter up here is rather more prosaic, I’m afraid. Nothing religious about it, only a lovely 10-day vacation where everyone’s out cross-country skiing and reading crime for relaxation.

  • Thank you, Simon. We are enjoying it in the Cyclades islands.

  • How fascinating. And you made me laugh with the story of the rebellious donkey! Enjoy the beautiful Cyclades. I so wish to go back!

  • Sounds as wonderful as our time in Loutro this week. Great post!

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