Greek Orthodox Easter is celebrated with a number of events and customs all across the country, but some areas are particularly famous for their holiday traditions. The Ionian island of Corfu is one of them.
The uniqueness of the Corfu’s Easter customs attracts not only local Greeks, but also foreign travelers and tourists. Easter in Corfu means festivals, parades, singing, food, and lots of color. The mix of Greek Orthodox traditions, pagan and Venetian influences, along with the presence of the Catholic community, makes for an interesting combination that’s beyond your ordinary Easter celebration.
The Old Town of Corfu is host to a number of church ceremonies during Holy Week, which lead up to the much anticipated Epitaphios display and walk. Known for its numerous philharmonic orchestras, the island is also famous for its Epitaphios ceremonies, which are probably the most passionate since they are accompanied by funeral music. The Epitaphios of the metropolitan church of St. Spyridon is by far the most popular, since St. Spyridon is the island’s patron saint.
During your visit to Corfu for Easter, do not be alarmed if you see people throwing clay pots off balconies. It’s just another Corfu island custom that takes place on Holy Saturday morning. This is part of the “Early Resurrection” celebration that happens after litany. Balconies around the Old Town are adorned in bright red cloth signifying the household is taking place in pot-throwing…so watch out! Ranging is sizes from tiny to super large, plain and painted pots called “botides” are dropped from various heights while thousands of onlookers applaud and cheer. It’s a noisy affair that’s accompanied by the orchestra’s beats and church bells ringing in the background. The philharmonic groups then parade through the Old Town’s streets playing joyous music.
That same night, the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated at the Esplanade with fireworks, music, and merrymaking until the early morning hours. That’s Easter in Corfu for you…a very upbeat, colorful experience full of tradition.
Pascha in Vrontados makes a “boom”
Greek Orthodox Easter is celebrated with various events and interesting customs all across Greece, but some locations are particularly famous for their holiday traditions, including the small town of Vrontados on the Aegean island of Chios.
So what’s so special about this place? Well, the area is said to get its name from the word “vrontes,” meaning thunder, because of the echoes heard from the nearby Aeops Mountain during thunderstorms. And this name fits perfectly for the local annual Easter tradition of the “rouketopolemos,” or the war of rockets.
Home to ship-owning families, Vrontados is a picturesque waterside town that comes to life during Holy Saturday night. Dating back to Turkish rule, the rouketopolemos custom is one that comes and goes with a bang, literally. The war is between two churches – Panagia Erithiani, and Agios Markos. The parishioners of each church ignite test rockets in the daylight and pause for Easter church services. At night, they aim thousands of home-made rockets at the rival church. The dark sky lights up with fire and fills with smoke, creating a truly unique sight.
In fact, the scene is extravagant and full of excitement…even magical, as sparks fly all over the place and illuminated streaks fill the atmosphere. Like the “aleuromoutzouroma” or flour war of Galaxidi during the Apokries season, the rouketopolemos has attracted international attention in the media as of late.
Locals plan well in advance. Aside from those speedily crafting the rockets, others work on protecting their homes and the churches with plastic covers and metallic wire, so they’re well prepared for the “fight.” And in the morning, there’s lots of cleaning to be done, but rest assured, all the mess is worth keeping true to this blazing custom!