In Greece, Easter is as big as the Christmas holiday in the UK or the USA. It’s the biggest festival of the year, a major religious celebration characterized by fasting, church-going and big family meals in the town. However, this year for the majority of Greeks, it will be a gloomy Easter weekend. The economic crisis and the increasing fiscal pressure the country is dealing with have forced a large number of Greeks to cut down on all sorts of Easter related expenses.
The sacrificed lamb is a key element of the Passover Seder, and in Christianity, Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God, slain then resurrected. In Greek culture, lamb is the king of all animals when it comes to feasting, especially during Easter.
Three to four decades ago, before excessive consumerism came into the picture, meat in Greece was reserved for special occasions and every bit of an animal was considered table-worthy. Surely no one believed that there would be a time when Greeks couldn’t afford to buy meat again. Yet this Easter, cash-strapped pensioners and state workers find it almost impossible to afford lamb.
“My wage has been cut almost in half ,” says Antonis, a secondary education math teacher from Crete. “I used to make 1300 euros and now I make 700. My Easter bonus was 120 euros. My rent is around 400 euros and I have two children so there isn’t going to be any lamb on the table this year.”
But Antonis is actually one of the lucky ones. Being a state worker means that at least he’s got a safety net and a salary coming in every month. Others are in a much worse condition. Aid workers and soup kitchens in Athens are struggling to provide for the city’s “new poor.” Since the economic crisis has taken hold, poverty has struck Greece’s middle class, and this year it is estimated that on Easter Sunday the number of the poor and homeless who are going to show up for a free meal is going to be almost double than last year.
No Shoes for The Godchildren
In Greece, Easter is a time for the godchildren. The tradition dictates that godparents should buy their godchildren a pair of shoes and their Easter candle. Kids get very excited about their special presents; they wear their new shoes and they take their special candle to church on Saturday night. Then they bring the candle back home lit so that they can make a cross with the flame over the main entrance.
But with 20% of the population unemployed and the rest making 600 euros a month, not many godparents can actually afford to spend 50 to 100 euros on their godchild’s present.
“It’s embarrassing. I simply can’t afford to buy my goddaughter her pair of shoes this year. I told her mother, she totally understands, she’s in a similar situation,” says Eleni who used to work for the Ministry of Culture but her contract expired and it was never renewed.
Domestic Demand For Hotels Is Down By 50%
Just like Italians the majority of Greeks will spend the Easter weekend at home instead of going to their village or to the Greek islands. Many hotels across Greece will remain closed over the Easter holiday, even at popular destinations, as reservations from the domestic tourism market are very low compared to previous years. In Crete and Mykonos, the demand for the Easter period from Greek tourists appears to be down by 50% in relation to last year. Even in Corfu, Greece’s number one destination for the Easter holiday, there will be 8,000 fewer beds available to tourists this year compared to 2011. In northern Greece the situation is even worse. In Halkidiki, only 40 hotels will be opening their doors this week, 35 of which are year-around businesses, while in 2011 the region’s entire 50 hotels were operating at Easter.
For Crisis Hit Greeks Even The “Village“ Becomes Expensive
Greeks usually spend their Easter at the their village, firstly because it’s cheap as they don’t have to pay for a hotel, and secondly because Greece is a family oriented country with very strong family ties and Easter is considered a time when the whole family must be together. This year though, it appears that Greeks don’t have money even to get to their village. Due to soaring fuel prices, this year’s Easter exodus to the Greek province is going to be among the lowest in history as crisis-hit Athenians can’t afford it. Fuel prices have skyrocketed and gas is sold over 1.80 euros, while in the Greek province it can reach 2 euros.
So with a 1400 cc car which consumes 9 liters per 100 kilometers and the gas prices at 1.81 euros per liter, a family traveling from Athens to Thessaloniki for the Easter break will spend 167.8 euros, when in 2009 – in the beginning of the crisis – they would have needed 83.43 euros. If we add the cost of tolls (50.8 euros along with the Attiki Odos), the total cost of the trip, only to get to Thessaloniki, reaches 218.6 euros!
On the other hand, roundtrip by the Intercity train from Thessaloniki to Athens (5 hours and 20 minutes) costs 55.60 euros per person, and, respectively, with the bus, the roundtrip ticket costs 65 euros.
The situation is even more dramatic when it comes to boat tickets. Shipping companies have increased their prices due to increased operating costs and the overall decline in value because of a decline in passenger traffic. The ticket prices to Cyclades, the Dodecanese and Crete are prohibitive for the average Greek family. For a family of four with a car from Piraeus to Paros the cost will reach 337 euros and 355 euros (up 5.3%) to Naxos.