Easter is the most important religious holiday of the Orthodox Church marking the resurrection of Christ and the chance of rebirth for mankind.
Falling always on a different date, Easter signals the end of the cold days of winter and the beginning of the sunny and warm days of summer. Easter celebrations hold also a special place in Greek tradition. We present you the most special and festive, truly connected with the Greek spirit!
The Rocket War of Chios
In the village of Vrondados, on the Greek island of Chios, the annual war of the rockets or Rouketopolemos is staged between two churches, Agios Marcos and Erithiani. The two rival church congregations in the town perform a rocket war by firing tens of thousands of home-made rockets across town, with the objective of hitting the other church’s bell tower. The rockets are wooden sticks loaded with an explosive mixture containing gunpowder and launched from grooved platforms.
The two rival parishes are St. Mark’s and Panaghia Ereithiani, the respective churches built on two hilltops about 400 meters away from each other. Direct hits on each belfry are supposedly counted on the next day to determine the winner, but each parish invariably claims victory over the other. The result of this apparent disagreement is that both parishes agree to settle the score next year, and the rivalry is perpetuated. The church buildings themselves and the nearby buildings have to be extensively boarded up and protected with metal sheets and mesh for the occasion.
Pot Throwing on Corfu
The celebration of Easter in Corfu is a unique experience, completely different from anywhere else in Greece! It is a huge festival, in which various components come together harmoniously: the Orthodox Christian faith, pagan traditions, the powerful presence of Saint Spiridon, the Roman Catholic community, the Venetian influence and of course the music of the philharmonic bands.
On Holy Saturday at 11am, the First Resurrection and the “Pot Throwing” custom take place, with local people throwing pots out of their windows, smashing them onto the streets below to exorcise death and the evil spirits. The balconies in the old town are decked in bright red pieces of cloth while the residents throw down large clay pots (the co-called botides) that are full of water to smash on the street pavements.
The Saitopolemos of Kalamata
The town of the Prefecture of Messinia in Peloponnese is well known for its “Saitopolemos” custom dating back to the revolution fights of 1821, when the people of Kalamata used the Saitas (a type of firework that makes loud noise) to startle the horses of the invading Turkish army, and thus, win the battle. The tradition refers especially to a battle the Greeks fought against the army of the Egyptian Sultan Ibrahim Pasha. The biggest celebration takes place in Kalamata Metropolitan Stadium where the participants are divided into 10 to 15 teams, consisting of 15 to 30 people, mainly young boys. The Saitas are hand-made of filled up paper tubes and powder. When the celebration begins the players light up their saites and the stadium glows with flame.
Vournes in Rhodes
The residents of the village of Agios Isidoros in Rhodes island maintain a tradition called Vourna that lasts for 3 days, starting from the Saturday before Easter. Only single men of the village can participate and must obey to some rules that are watched over by a board of “secret police” who follow the participants. Rules include attending Church services and other requirements. Those who break rules have a tsoukopana (a special cloth) hung on the chimney of their home indicating their offense.Following a court haring on Easter Monday the “judges” will charge the participants who have not respected the rules of this tradition and impose the fines that they must be charged with. Those who refuse to pay their fines are thrown in the cold water of the Vourna (a basin) without any warning and doused with water! The money raised is given to charity.
Balloons of Leonidio
Unique is the Easter celebration in Leonidio at the prefecture of Arcadia in Peloponnese, with a spectacular custom right after the Paschal light comes: hundreds of colorful balloons from Tyros and Leonidio are released and travel, for 30-40 minutes, over the Myrtoo sea, visible -when the weather allows, to Hydra and Spetses.
Lakkos in Livadeia
In Livadia at the prefecture of Voiotia in central Greece, we experience the custom of “lakkos” (pit). After the Resurrection and before the dawn, residents prepare the fire. One of them makes his cross and sets fire to the pile with the candle of the Resurrection. By sprinkling water and many hittings with a long stick, the cinder is ready to cook the lambs. The town is wrapped in clouds of smoke. Fires are ready and lambs are placed in the “pits”.
Kounia in Kythnos
In the island of Kythnos, the most impressive tradition is that of “Kounia”(swing). On Easter Sunday, in the island’s Square a swing is being set in which boys and girls are wiggling, dressed up in traditional costumes. He or she that will shake someone is committed in the eyes of God and people for marriage. Also, during the Night of Holy Saturday we meet the custom of “sychorio” (memorial), according to anyone with dead relatives bringing at the church roasts, wine and bread. The goods take the priest’s eulogy and are being offered to the guests and the residents of the island.
The Sword dancing of Ierissos
In the village of Ierissos in Chalkidiki, locals gather on the third day after Easter at the homonym hills to relive the custom of “The Field of the Doomed Youth” (Tou mavrou yiou t’ aloni). The elderly people start dancing and then everyone is invited to join hands in a dancing circle extending for some 400 meters.
The Easter songs continue throughout the day and the custom comes to an end with the “Kageleftos” Dance, which represents the slaughter of 400 locals by the Ottomans during the 1821 revolution. The tradition recalls an incident in 1821, during the revolution, when the Turks promised general amnesty to those who would surrender. After they surrendered, the Turkish pasha asked the residents to dance. At every turn of the dance, the swords of the Turks slaughtered one dancer. The dancers pass under an arch made of laurel leafs and the raised swords of two young men. In the middle of the dance, the performers change their steps in order to look at each other for the final greeting.
The local traditional “zografitikos” coffee boiling in a large cauldron, tsourekia and red eggs complement the day. The dance is repeated again in the afternoon in the central square of the village.
The Arachova St. George Fest
The small mountain village of Arachova is not only popular for its winter attractions but hosts a unique custom for the Easter time.
The icon of the local protector, St. George, is carried the second day after Easter Sunday throughout the village, and a three day fest is organized to honor the Greek Orthodox saint.
During the fest, about 500 locals wear traditional costumes and gather at the courtyard of the Holy Church of Saint George. The elder people then dance the “Panigyraki” (small fest) traditional dance to the sounds of the bagpipes and the snare drums. Then, the young and the old inhabitants of Arachova participate in an uphill race towards the headquarters of Mustafa Bey. The winning prize is a living lamb.