Easter traditions on Greek islands can be incredibly unique, offering a different experience to the country’s most important holiday.
Following 40 days of fasting and a reverent Holy Week, Easter Sunday throughout Greece culminates in a day of celebration, fun, feasting, traditional music, dancing and being with family and friends.
On the Greek islands, Easter can step beyond the traditions of the Greek Orthodox church. Easter traditions on Greek islands are remarkable, some rich in folkloric rituals with pagan and Byzantine elements. Other islands borrowed certain customs from other cultures and are cherished to this day.
The following Easter traditions on Greek islands we list below may surprise you…
Easter on Chios island
A Rocket War
Chios is full of uniqueness. It is the only place in the world that produces mastiha, a natural aromatic resin collected from the island’s mastic trees. Chios also boasts one-of-kind villages, some of the best Aegean island beaches and special culinary traditions. Come Easter Saturday, the peace of the island is taken over by flying rockets.
On Easter Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Vrontados village takes center stage as a Greek rocket war takes place. More than 60,000 homemade rockets are fired – all in good spirits– between Saint Mark and the Church of the Virgin Mary Erethianis, two rival churches. The harmless rockets light up the sky for hours until Easter midnight. This fascinating custom originated from the days of the Ottoman occupation when local cannons were confiscated from the Greeks. The only Greek rocket war in existence is an unforgettable Easter experience for the senses.
Easter on Santorini island
An Easter Ablaze
You may not think Santorini’s natural beauties can be enhanced any further. Come visit during Easter and you might change your mind. Imagine the most famous island landscape of Greece aglow from tens of thousands of lighted candles.
In Pyrgos, a mountain top village, the local tradition of lighting candles creates a fiery spectacle during Good Friday. During the traditional Epitaphios, a procession of the icon of Christ, the townspeople parade through the paths of the old castle, lighting no less than 25,000 candles that line the rooftops and the paths of the religious walk. Given the village’s altitude as the highest peak of the island, the collective candlelight creates a flickering crown of gold in the darkness of that holy evening.
Easter on Corfu island
Smashing fun and folly
Famous for its stately history and Venetian architecture, Corfu is a tranquil beauty of rolling lush landscapes, sleepy Ionian villages and a stretch of serene coastlines where emerald shores sparkle. The typical Greek Orthodox ceremonies of Holy Week go on as planned each year, done very piously and with quiet reverence. Visitors to the island have no idea what’s in store once Easter weekend rolls around.
When the church bells ring at midnight on Easter Sunday morning, it is the cue for Corfu’s villages to transform into incredible street parties.
Locals hurl clay pots from their balconies. The huge ceramics crash on the street below, adding to the joyous cacophony of cheering crowds and brass bands. The pot throwing tradition hails from the Venetians who would throw old things from the windows in the New Year in hopes of receiving new things to replace them.
Easter on Syros island
Two Religions: One Easter
Syros is one of the most elegant islands in Greece, the intellectual and cultural center of the Cycladic islands, known for its wealthy and cultured past. Its marbled streets boast fine neoclassical buildings and even a stunning opera house called the Apollo Theater (modeled after La Scala in Milan). The locals are proud of their local gastronomy and the island’s roots in Greek blues called rembetika.
What also sets Syros apart is its history of two religions: Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox. Syros is one of the few places in the world where both communities can celebrate Easter together. The Easter customs from both religions meld at the same time in the open central square of the island creating a touching atmosphere rooted in faith and kindness.
As you can see, Easter traditions on Greek islands have evolved and have been influenced in a very special way indeed! Which of the Easter traditions would you love to witness?