For the Greeks, Easter is not about chocolate eggs, although there are more appearing in the shops every year.
The Greeks live by their religion (Greek Orthodox) so Easter is one of their biggest holidays.
Every town and city has their own traditions, but the beautiful Island of Corfu, where I have lived for over 19 years, is famous for their Easter.
Thousands of Greeks, as well as foreigners, travel to Corfu for the unique celebrations.
For forty days, traditional Greeks will fast, leaving meat, eggs, milk, cheese, and sweets from their diet. The rest of the country fast on Wednesday and Fridays, but all will diet for the last week before Easter.
Lefkimi is one of the largest villages on the Island. The first of the numerous parades begins when the sun goes down on Good Friday. Villagers dressed in black, congregate at the local church. Carrying lighted candles, they walk around the village while a band plays a funeral march. A wooden cross and religious icons lead the parade, while the priest and local villagers join up for the candle mass. Windowsills and balconies are lit up with tea candles, making the narrow village lanes look magical. Even though the parade represents the funeral of Christ, and the villagers are in mourning, it is an incredible sight. The atmosphere, although somber, is awe-inspiring.
On Saturday morning, thousands of spectators make their way to the Liston, in the centre of Corfu town, to see the pot throwing. Red cloths hang from the balconies of the homes above the cafes that make up the stunning French architecture of the Liston. Down below, thousand of Greeks crane their necks in anticipation. At eleven O’clock, once the first bell rings, enormous clay pots, filled with water, are thrown from the balconies. There are many representations for this tradition. Some say it comes from a passage of the bible, others that it derives from a Pagan custom that harvested products were stored in new pots and the old pots thrown away. It is also thought that the custom derives from the Venetians, who threw old items out of the window in order to receive new ones. I’ve also heard it said that the throwing of the pot represents Judas’s betrayal. Whatever the reason, this custom is a spectacular sight. Just make sure you get there before eleven because it’s over quickly.
At Eleven PM on Good Saturday, the villagers of Lefkimi gather at their local church. The children hold decorative candles and lanterns while the adults carry large plain candles. Each candle is lit from the holy flame, which comes direct from Jesus’ tomb. This flame travels around Greece and lights every candle around the country. Again, a candled procession, led by the priest, travels around the village. The atmosphere is exciting and upbeat, even the band accompanies the parade with happy, joyful music. The parade ends at the local church where the priest says a prayer and blesses everyone. At twelve o’clock, the church bells ring out; once the priest cries out ‘ Christos Anesti’ (Christ has risen) fireworks, gunfire, and loud bombs are let off. Everyone goes around kissing and shaking hands, wishing neighbours, friends and family present a happy Easter. At least, one candle must remain lit, so that the sign of the cross can be burnt above the front door of the home.
Back inside the house, the family feast on Mayirista, a soup made from lamb’s intestine. Dyed, hard-boiled eggs decorate the dinner table as the family competes to smash each other’s egg.
Easter dinner is fresh roasted lamb, which has been cooking all morning on a spit over an open fire. Some villagers prefer to leave the lamb for Monday and instead feast on (avgolemono) egg, lemon and rice soup.
Early Monday morning, each church has mass, and then the congregation leaves with their church flag. As the assembly walks through the village, other churches with their priests and flags join in the parade. By the time the parade reaches Portami (the bridge on the canal), the procession consists of Philharmonic bands, a dozen priests with their church flags and icons, and hundreds of villagers, all dressed in the fineries. At twelve o’clock, a priest says a prayer and a blessing, then deafening explosions blast in the cannel water, showering the unlucky spectators.
During the warm sunny days of Easter, you will find the cafes full of Greeks sipping Frappes (Iced coffee) and cold cappuccinos. In the evening, Tavernas and nightclubs open their doors after 11pm for bouzukis (live Greek bands) where the Greeks dance and drink until the early hours.
Corfu, (the emerald Isle) is an amazing place. Easter is exceptionally breathtaking. With flowers in bloom, and the freshly painted white-washed walls, you will fall in love with the beauty of the Island. With unique traditions and countless celebrations, Easter in Corfu is an experience you will never forget.
Originally published in The real Greek Islands Magazine
copyright Karina Kantas 2007