If you love exploring customs around the world, you’ll be fascinated with the Easter holiday in Georgia.
This tiny country was one of the earliest regions in the world to practice Eastern Christian Orthodoxy, and today, about 84% of the population claim themselves among the Orthodox faithful.
Orthodox Christianity revolves around the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar. This means that Orthodox churches usually celebrate Easter Sunday later than the Western churches.
Easter is the most important holiday for Orthodox Christians, and the rich cultural celebrations are a country-wide phenomenon.
However, for all of its serious religious import, Easter is quite an enjoyable time in Georgia. Here's an overview of what to expect if you visit Georgia for Easter.
Traditional Orthodox Easter in Georgia begins with the Lenten fasting period, 40 days prior to Easter Sunday. Next in the Easter celebration is Bzoba, more commonly known as Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Easter “Holy Week.”
In Georgia (as palm trees are not indigenous), local boxwood evergreen branches symbolize the palm fronds that the people placed at Christ’s feet as he entered historical Jerusalem. During the Easter holiday period, Georgians decorate their homes with the colourful green branches.
On Holy Thursday (or Maunday Thursday), the Patriarch, the Head of the Orthodox Church in Georgia, symbolically washes the feet of twelve church bishops, honouring how Jesus washed the feet of his twelve disciples.
Next follows Good Friday, commemorating Christ’s crucifixion and death at Calvary. Holy Saturday (Red Saturday), is the day that Jesus rested in his tomb, but in spirit, also liberated those souls held captive in Hell.
As in other Christian sects, Easter Sunday in Georgia celebrates Christ rising from the dead, three days after his crucifixion.
Much like Mexico’s Day of The Dead festivities, on Bright Monday (the day after Easter Sunday), families gather at the cemetery. They light candles and symbolically roll red eggs over the graves of loved ones, then “share a meal” with those who have passed. It’s not a gloomy affair, but rather an uplifting celebration, and is an important part of Easter rejoicings.
Because Easter fasting is a widespread custom in Georgia, many local Lenten culinary dishes developed over the centuries. You can find these delicious mainstays of Georgian cuisine all year round, but they’re especially favoured during the Easter Lenten period.
Fragrant herbs, spices, and walnuts appear in many Georgian recipes. During Easter, you can enjoy vegan fasting dishes such as spinach and walnut appetizers (pkhali), Georgian eggplant and walnut rolls (badrijani nigvzit), mildly-spiced white bean stew (lobiani), red peppers stuffed with walnut paste, and savory pies with fresh herbs.
For Easter Sunday dinner, most households prepare a flavorful lamb stew (chakapuli) that includes tarragon, wine and unripe green plums. And no Easter meal is complete without the famous Orthodox Easter dessert, a towering orange-scented, sweet yeasted bread, known as kulich or paska.
Incredibly, modern Georgians can (although not all do!) also indulge in Lenten vegan “fasting donuts” (with flavours like Bavarian Kreme, chocolate and double strawberry) created especially by Dunkin’ Donuts for their franchises in Georgia!
Georgians also celebrate by growing “Easter grass” (Jejili), symbolizing the renewal of life in springtime. Each family prepares a small plastic plate by covering it with wet cotton. Next, they scatter wheat seeds over the damp cotton, letting them germinate for one-three weeks.
The result is a four-inch-high stand of bright green wheatgrass, used as a decoration during Easter week. Some choose to further decorate the grass by placing dyed eggs within the grass blades.
You’ll find these little trays of wheatgrass on sale in small shops or street stalls during the Easter holiday period.
On Good Friday, it’s a family ritual to dye Easter eggs together. Unlike the multicolored Easter eggs found in the west, Georgians use dried natural madder roots to dye their Easter eggs red.
In the weeks preceding Easter, street vendors display huge piles of madder roots, usually sold in small packets. The roots are boiled in a large pot of water (often along with red onion skins) to produce a rich, deep red dye.
Eggs are boiled in the dye, dried, and polished with oil to a shiny finish. Georgian Orthodox Christians do not decorate their eggs with designs or other colours – their eggs are simply various shades of beautiful, deep red.
The use of red eggs at Easter has Biblical origin. The most wonderful version of the legend is:
When Christ was resurrected, Mary Magdalene joyously gave the news to the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar, that Jesus had risen. She happened to be carrying a basket of eggs. The Emperor laughed at her claim, and said that it was just as unlikely for her eggs to turn red, as for Jesus to rise from the dead. Apparently, the eggs turned red, right before their eyes!
This is why Mary Magdalene is sometimes depicted holding a red egg. The red eggs symbolize rebirth and renewal.
Georgian families have fun-filled competitions to see whose boiled Easter egg is the strongest. They do this on Easter Sunday, by each choosing an egg and pairing off in two’s, tapping one person’s egg against the other’s. Players are eliminated as their eggs crack, and the game continues until the last contender (whose egg remains whole) wins. The eggs are then served as part of the Easter dinner.
Orthodox Christian churches in Georgia welcome people of all faiths to join their widely-attended Easter services. The Saturday night service (or Midnight Mass) begins in late evening and continues until early morning on Sunday.
Church members often bring baskets, filled with candles, eggs, and bread, for blessings during the service. On Easter Sunday, the family eats the blessed contents as part of their Easter meal.
It’s not absolutely necessary to attend the entire lengthy service. Visitors are free to come and go as they please; just be respectful and don’t disrupt the ongoing service. Many churches, throughout the country, have outdoor courtyards where one can also listen to the liturgy, as it is happening inside.
Georgians will greet everyone during Easter Sunday and Monday, by saying “Kriste Agadga” (Christ is Risen) instead of a normal “Hello.” The correct response to this greeting is to say, “Cheshmaritad” meaning, “Indeed He has!”
Easter Sunday and Monday are official holidays in Georgia, but only national touristic spots such as museums and monuments will be closed. Most large supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, and pharmacies are open for the entire Easter period, although some may have shortened hours.
Small shops and markets might close, along with some cafes.
As mentioned above, you’ll have plenty of delicious special foods to eat, as well as the usual fare. Meat, chicken, and dairy are all available for those not fasting.
Alcoholic beverages are also available, and even Orthodox Christians only refrain from drinking during one or two of the holier days of the Easter period. Alcohol is definitely permitted on Easter Sunday, so wine features prominently at the Easter dinner, or supra.
Due to the large percentage of the population attending church services, public transportation still operates on Easter, although routes may be limited. If you need to travel on Easter Sunday or Monday, it’s best to check ahead of time to make sure your route will be covered. Taxis are often available, but again, line up your transport in advance.
Georgian people enjoy introducing outsiders to their culture, and this is especially true during the Easter holidays! If at all possible, try to stay in a small guesthouse or privately-owned hotel or homestay where you will (hopefully) be invited to join in rituals like egg-dying or Easter bread making.
An invitation to Easter Sunday family dinner is a real treat! Be prepared to eat and drink your fill and more – supras (Georgian celebration meals) are like no others, so pace yourself
If you’re into people-watching, visit the local cemetery in any town or city in Georgia on the Monday after Easter Sunday. As streams of families come and go visiting their loved ones, you may even be invited to enjoy a meal with them at the graveside. Don’t be shy! Georgians love to celebrate, and it’s always a good time!
Depending on where you come from, you may be used to ham or turkey as the main dish for Easter dinner. You might also look forward to eating lots of brightly coloured jelly beans and egg or bunny-shaped chocolates during this time period. If so, don’t be dismayed that these items are not a big part of Georgian Easter.
Instead, you’ll have the opportunity to enjoy some traditional customs that involve a simple, natural celebration of springtime and renewal of life, the Georgian way…
Last Updated 5 April 2023