In the religion of Christianity, Easter has to be one of the most important and loved festivities. This is a holiday marking the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and is celebrated with utmost happiness by all Christians across the globe. According to the New Testament, the resurrection occurred on the third day after his crucifixion and is therefore celebrated throughout the weekend.
On Good Friday, Christians come together and pray to commemorate the crucifixion, and move further on Sunday to celebrate the holiday of Easter. Each year, Easter day falls on a Sunday and the date continues to change.
Easter is also popularly known as the first major holiday in the Spring season and is also considered to be the holiest day of the year for most Christians. Eastern Europeans have come up with many different, unique ways to commemorate this day through their traditions, customs and even special recipes. The entire theme of Easter revolves around new birth, chocolate eggs, green vegetables and spring lamb!
Easter Throughout Europe
Since Europe is a rich land in terms of tradition, every country seems to have their own unique way of celebrating Easter. In England, Easter is mainly celebrated by the exchange of eggs and other gifts such as money, clothes and usually chocolate. Some people also engage their families in making Easter baskets that contain daffodils and mini eggs!
The French call Easter the ‘Paques’. This celebration begins on Good Friday where the Church bells do not ring for three days beginning from Friday and ending on Sunday. This tradition is their way of mourning for the crucified Christ. In Italy, however, it is known as La Pasqua. Their version of Easter contains a huge feast that is celebrated with Agnellino (roasted baby lamb), which is Italy’s special dish for Easter.
The German have their own version of Easter by the name of ‘Ostern’, possibly after the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring named Eostre. The best part about Easter there is that school children have almost three weeks of vacation and all offices are closed throughout Easter weekend. Most Germans relate this holiday with fish and hosting big bonfires for their families.
The most unique and interesting celebration is done by the people of Greece, who engage in a ‘rocket-war’ to commemorate the happenings of Easter.
On the Greek island of Chios, an annual festival known as Rouketopolemos is held to celebrate Easter. While this literally translates to ‘rocket-war’, this custom is a variation of the original Greek custom of throwing off fireworks at midnight before Easter Sunday.
During this celebration, two rival church congregations in the small town engage in a rocket war by firing thousands of homemade rockets across town. The objective of this war is to aim for the bell tower of the church on the opposite side. These rockets are made by locals themselves and are combinations of a wooden stick loaded with a mixture containing gunpowder.
It is a popular custom amongst the Greek to celebrate Easter with an abundance of fireworks, but the town of Vrontados takes this a step much further. Most of the towns people gather on either one of the churches that are approximately 400 meters away and fire their rockets across the valley towards each other, covering the entire town with a sheet of beautiful fireworks on the night before Easter. The end of this tradition is marked by announcing a winner, who is typically the one who has had the most successful hits at the opposite bell tower.
Rouketopolemos: Background and History
The Greek tradition of an annual rocket-war goes back multiple centuries, making it a fixed tradition to be followed by all upcoming generations. While the true origin behind the annual celebration varies, there are some theories that are mutually agreed upon by most locals. In general, this festival is a variation of the Greek custom of blowing off fireworks during the celebration of the Orthodox service in church at midnight before Easter.
A central origin story claims that the events of this rocket-war can be traced back to the Ottoman times, where there were far more serious circumstances with real cannons being fired. Under the Ottoman Turkish Empire of the nineteenth century, locals were desperate to celebrate their spring holiday of Easter without the fear of harsh interference. To ensure that the Turks kept themselves away, the members of both churches mutually devised the plan to fake a battle with cannons and allow the religious members of their community to safely attend all Easter services. Since the Turks feared that the locals can use these cannons to revolt against them, they were taken away and kept under the supervision of the Turks themselves. Since then, the cannons were replaced with homemade rockets that would be shot all across town.
The Consequences of the Rocket-War
The war continues to be a dangerous tradition to follow, regardless of the replacement of cannons with homemade rockets. To protect the heritage churches and nearby buildings from damage, they need to be covered with heavy metal sheets. Through the course of many years, accidents such as chipped plaster on buildings and houses, minor injuries to locals regarding fireworks and stray rockets causing brush fires started to become very common. The battle scars faced during the night are still clearly visible the next morning on Easter Sunday, and some people even had to take the day off for rest. As a result, not all locals were happy with this celebration due to the hassle that it caused throughout the village.
In 2016, villagers had called off the annual tradition claiming that it causes a wide range of safety and cleanup issues for locals on Easter Sunday. Since the rockets are potentially harmful to nearby buildings, locals and the churches themselves, the people of the village pleaded that everything must be protected with wire mesh to prepare for the ‘rocket-war’ beforehand.
Since then, the festival has commenced again with better planning and continues to be a great tourist attraction due to the large amount of dedication put forth by the locals. It’s a rocket war like know other, you have to see if for your own eyes to believe it!