Saturday of Souls: Food for the Dead… Kolyva

Saturday of Souls: Food for the Dead… Kolyva

This Saturday is very high on the list of one of the most important days in the Greek Orthodox calendar and one of special meaning for people all over Greece. It is called the Psychosavato, which can be translated as the Saturday of Souls. It is a day of remembrance just before the great lent the precedes Easter, the day of the Ressurcation.

Just as with almost every religious practice that is filtered through cultures during the centuries, the Saturday of Souls (celebrated in many parts of the world in different forms) is one of these days that are full of symbolism, expressions of perceptions of the natural and the divine, and emotional expressions that are all expressed through food.


The celebration of the Saturday of Souls is not a new one and is certainly not a purely Orthodox one. The roots are planted in antiquity where Ancient Greeks used to celebrate their dead at the end of winter. This way they were welcoming the new season and at the same time the refreshing of the dead souls that were resting in the underworld.

The Ancient Greeks were celebrating the Anthesteria dedicated to entities such as Persephone and Dyonisos. It was celebrated somewhere in February and it was a three-day event, where it was believed that the dead come on out from the underworld. During that time and in order to please the dead, Greeks were preparing a dish named Panspermia which in practice was a mix of different cereals and lentils.



Religions change, but beliefs and the human need to stay in contact with those lost are timeless. As a continuation of that ancient practice the Christian Orthodox Church kept the practice but altered the names and the approach. Today the name of Panspermia changed to Koliva which is an alteration of the name Kolivos which translates as “seed from a cereal”. Koliva is basically a very tasty, full flavor, rich dish that looks like a deconstructed cake with cereals, sugar and fruits. It is a truly interesting dish that is lately served as an elegant dessert in fancy restaurants around Greece.

Today believers take Koliva to church on Friday night in order to be blessed for the mass that follows. Every component of the Koliva holds a symbolic meaning and a special role. The basic ingredient is wheat that symbolizes fertility and Earth. It also has the ability o regenerate itself even if it rots under the surface of the Earth. The raisins symbolize the sweetness of life and Jesus (“I am the true vine”). Pomegranate is the fruit of the underworld and it is the fruit that Hades gave to Persephone in order to forever tie her to the underworld. The cleaned almonds have the role of the bones, while the spices used to emphasize the aromas of the Earth. Spearmint is used in Crete to refresh the soul (Psalm 23:2-4 NLT – He lets me rest in green meadows;) The powder that covers all these flavors and ingredients is made out of dried chickpeas and flour that symbolizes the soil, while finally, the sugar is there to offer a sweet paradise.

This particular day is a great example of the ways the natural and the divine interfere in everyday practices. It highlights the need of people to reach out to the unknown and help those that are gone in order to gain peace in every chance they get. Food again becomes the medium through which to accomplish satisfaction, where every bite offers redemption by including the different elements that surround the dead. At the same time these elements celebrate regeneration, the anticipation of resurrection and the hope for a good afterlife!


Many thanks to  Eleni Vassilaki for allowing us to take information from her original article:

Ψυχοσάββατο: Η γιορτή για τις ψυχές των νεκρών,από που προέρχεται και τι συμβολίζει


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