Α sweet funeral feast from the ancient Greeks to Orthodox

Kolliva or as the name “the wheat” prevails in many places, is one of the oldest Christian customs that has been preserved in the life of the Orthodox Church and is directly connected with the commemoration of the dead, which are celebrated on specific days, such as three-day, nine-day, fortnightly, quarterly, annual, but also psychosabbaths, Saturday dedicated to the dead. Kolliva are wheat boiled and mixed with nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, raisins, pomegranates, herbs and sugar, and as a rule today, it takes the form of a decorated tray (Κουράκλης, 2020).

They are offered to those attending church in memorial, but are also distributed afterwards to relatives or friends’ homes. The custom comes from the earlier Christian years and is related to the funeral feasts of the Greeks and other peoples. The word Kolliva has ancient Greek origins, in the beginning it meant any kind of small sweet made of wheat in the shape of a pie or the “trogaliza” and the “tragimata”, i. e. nuts (walnuts, almonds, raisins, hazelnuts, figs, etc.

It also means any coin of small value, that is, the very thin in thickness and value of a currency. Aristophanes (424 BC) calls the coins “Kollybus”. According to the opinion of some, in the early Christian years there was a custom to distribute at the memorial services, kolybus, that is, small coins, as alms: “alms for those who left to the Lord in their memorials”. So we ended up calling the “wheat” kolliva (Κουράκλης, 2020).

The custom of kolliva is very old. Its roots lie in the years before Christ. Wheat, the main food of the human race, was a sacred fruit for our ancient ancestors. It was the extraordinary kind of food that made man different from wild animals and for this reason wheat had a sacred character.

The ancient Greeks had the custom of offering their dead once a year on the day of the “Chytrae” that is, the third and last day of the feast of the Anteristria, a mixture of various fruits which they called “panspermia or pancarpia”, that means full of nuts. This feast of the ancient Greeks was held in honor of the dead and of course has some connection with our own Psychosabbath, Saturday of the deads (Κουράκλης, 2020).

Today, kolliva are associated with Christian burial. However, the offering of fruit to the dead and later to the relatives as a treat in memory of the deceased is very old. It is an action intertwined with the pain of loss, regardless of time, culture, race, history and religion. So, it is easy to see that when we distribute and when we eat the juices, we are not doing something random. There is a symbolism in this movement. No one leaves until they take even one seed from the pan, giving a wish for the repose of the dead.

Photos by Michailidis Kyriakos and Chatzisavva Kiki

Κουρακλής Π. (2020). Κόλλυβα, μια προσφορά μνήμης και αγάπης. Retrieved November 18, 2022 from