The period of Easter, for the Christians Orthodox, has come and it is celebrated with respect. We are half through the Holy Week, the week of Christ’s passions and everywhere, the faithful, feel the God-man’s drama, just before its peak the Holy Thursday, with the crucifixion and while waiting for the Lord’s Resurrection.The faithful go to the church and attend the services with the special ceremony and the Easter hymns. Everywhere in Greece, Easter is celebrated with religious devout and in many regions we have the revival of various Easter customs that offer a distinctive color to the celebrations! Throughout centuries these Easter customs, pieces of the rich Greek tradition, were preserved and passed from generation to generation, till our days. Easter gives an opportunity for travels, so if you find your selves in any of the places listed below, don’t forget to see these beautiful, unique, Easter customs. Lets check them one by one:
1. The Rocketwars in Chios
In the scenic island of Chios, after the Ressuraction on Holy Saturday, one of the most impressive Easter customs, takes place. The rocketwars happen in the village of Vrontado, between the churches of Panagia Ereithiani ant Saint Marcus, two churches that are located one opposite the other. The roots of this custom go back at the time of the Turkish occupation, when according to the tradition, the faithful used to scare the Turks with their rockets, in order to keep them away while celebrating Easter. Thousands of homemade rockets, that are made by the faithful of the two “rival camps”, turn the night into day, as they fly from the one side to the other, having as a target each others church. Its a fascinating custom, yet very dangerous, since every year there are a lot of injuries.
2. The Botides in Corfu
Corfu is a favorite destination during Easter and people overflow the beautiful island of the Faiakes. If you travel there, go to the Spianada square in the mornig of the Holy Saturday. It would be better to be there before 10:00 to find a spot. There you will witness the custom of the “Botides”. “Botides” is the name of the clay pottery that have the distinctive small, narrow mouth and the two handles at both sides of the vessel. At around 12:00, the locals step out to their beautifully decorated balconies and from there they start throwing down, on the street, their clay potteries, which are filled with water. They have red ribbons tied on them, red which is Corfu’s color. Some of the vessels are small, other are bigger, however all of them create big noise as they break causing great excitement among the locals and the tourists who watch this interesting custom.
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3. The ceremony of the Holy Sink in Patmos
In the new testament, before the last supper, Jesus washed the feet of his 12 disciples, as an act of humility. Centuries later, in Patmos, the island of the revelation, the religious custom of the Holy Sink is celebrated every year in the morning of the Holy Thursday. It is the representation of Jesus’s act and it taken place for more than 400 years, having its roots the the Byzantine Empire. A procession starts from the monastery of Saint John heading to the main square of Patmos. There is a platform where 12 priests are sitting, like the 12 disciples, while the abbot of the monastery, who represents Jesus Christ, takes a bowl filed with water and starts washing their feet during the reading of the Holy Gospel. This custom a attracts thousands of pilgrims and foreign tourists from all over the world.
4. The burning of Judas
The burning of Judas is one of the most famous Easter customs that revives every year in many regions across Greece, from Thrace and Macedonia to the island of Crete. There are many variations of the custom, depending the local traditions, but the main event is the burning of a dummy of Judas. The figure of Judas is the synonym of treason in the Christianity and through the preservation of this old Easter custom, the faithful “punish” the disciple’s treason. The dummy is made of wood, clothes, hay and in many regions people place fireworks in the interior. In most occasions the custom revives every Holy Sunday, during which, the dummy is being curried through the streets until the spot where it is placed and is lighted up. A highly fascinating custom that thrills the attendants.
5. The procession of the Epitaphs
Every Holy Friday throughout Greece the procession of the Epitaphs take place. It is one of the most beautiful customs you can watch. Every Parish in the morning, during the service prepares its own Epitaph, that decorates with flowers. During the rest of the day, the faithful go from church to church, kneeling before the Epitaph, while the kids pass under them to receive the blessing. Later in the night from every church stars a parade, heading to the meeting point of all the Epitaphs. In my city, Ioannina, a large procession that is formed by a military unit, the philharmonic band, the Bishop along with the priests and the hundreds of people, moves on the Averof street from the church until it meets with the Epitaphs of the rest of the parishes. There, thousands of faithful are gathered, holding candles, listen respectfully the Holy Gospel.
6. The barbecue of the lamp
On Holy Sunday, everywhere in Greece people barbecue lamp! Either on charcoal or in the oven, the lamp is in the menu for both bon viveurs and those who didn’t eat any meet because of the fast the period before Easter. This is the most famous and old traditional custom and it is a real feast. Many people visit their villages, where in almost every yard you can hear songs and laughs, while the lamp is prepared in the skewer, while others go to the countryside. This custom’s symbolism is obvious. Easter symbolizes for us Christians the passage from death to life, to the Resurrection and the lamp’s slaughter symbolizes Christ’s Sacrifice. The lamp represents Christ, who as the Lamp of the God bears the sins of the people.
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7. The air balloons in Leonidio
It is one of the Easter customs i haven’t manage to see by my self, although i really wish to see it. In Leonidio, the night right after the Resurrection, the sky fills with colorful air balloons, that the faithful form the 5 parishes have hand made the previous days! We will have to go back to the end of the 19th century to trace the roots of this loved and fascinating custom. According to many people, it was brought to Arcadia by Greek sailors that came across similar customs in their journeys in Asia. As years passed this practice was combined with the day of Christ’s Resurrection and since then it revives every year, impressing both the locals and the tourists that watch it. The air balloons are made out of pieces of reed and paper, while the warm air from the fire, they light up on the balloon’s base, sends them to high up to the sky. There is intense competition between the faithful as for which parish will have the most balloons up in the air.
8. The “saitopolemos” in Kalamata
Another one Easter custom that you should see is the saitopolemos which every year on Holy Sunday monopolizes the interest of Kalamata’s residents and visitors. The saitopolemos is one of the older Easter custom in Messinia and it has its roots back to 1821 and the Greek revolution. Then the rebellious Greeks scared the horses of the Turkish cavalry, with the fire, that was coming out of the circular pieces of reed they had, that were fully loaded with gunpowder. Groups of locals. the so called bouloukia, are organized hand making the cardboard cylinders, which later they fill with gun powder. When Easter comes, the gather around an open space and a feast of light, flames and sounds commences. of course it worths mentioning that it is a very dangerous custom, as every year a lot of injuries happen and many people have lost their fingers from the saites that have exploded on their hands
We have so many beautiful Easter customs in Greece! Wherever you travel you will feel the unique moments, celebrating Easter! Take you beloved ones with you and leave for the holidays. Live the Holy week and celebrate Christ’s Resurrection. This is the value of these customs! Their revival gives us cultural identity and keeps alive the traditions!