Tag Archives: Greece

Easter Celebrations In Greece

While here in the UK we have already got the Easter celebrations out of the way the Christian Orthodox countries such as Greece are just about to begin theirs this weekend.

The reason behind the delay in the Easter celebrations is because of the difference in the calendars that they follow. In a lot of the eastern Christian countries, they follow the Julian calendar opposed to the Gregorian calendar which is widely used by most countries today. It is not only Greece that celebrates Easter a little later but Russia as well as other Balkan, middle eastern and former Soviet countries.

Easter in the UK is celebrated with eggs whether they be chocolate, soft/hard boiled, poached or any other way. You may attend a church service or just make it a day for family and friends. If you wonder why Lamb is the main feature for meals around Eastertime this is because according to Apostle, Jesus was the lamb of god. Eggs represent the symbol of new life or the emergence of Jesus from the tomb and in Greece, they paint eggs a red colour to represent the blood from Christ’s tomb. Church services begin on Good Friday 26th April 2019, and on this day tend to have a more sombre affair to them, flags at half-mast and a few bells ringing to represent Christ’s passing.

In Greece and other countries, they still follow similar Easter celebrations but with the addition of getting out the fireworks and homemade bombs and even in some cases nearly setting the town on fire in the name of tradition.

Easter on Chios

The Saturday in western Christianity Is the day where the main celebrations are. “Holy Saturday” is the most important and takes place around midnight. When finished church bells ring out, fireworks and crackers are released all over towns and villages to mark the resurrection. Also, on the Holy Saturday, you will find another explosive celebration taking place on the tiny island of Chios – known to many as rouketopolemos or rocket wars. This annual tradition takes place in the town of Vrontado, along with two rival parishes that live on the opposite sides of the hills in the town. After the announcement of the resurrection is made thousands of rockets are then released from the two villages aiming for the bell tower of each other’s churches. The next day is when the successor is decided by how many hits, each year both congregations decide they are the winners, agree to disagree so they can prepare and do it all again next year.

In Kalamata the city in Southern Greece Easter is celebrated with a re-enactment of Greece pushing back against the Turkish army in the revolution. They did this with homemade IEDs to scare away the horses. It takes place on the Sunday evening when gangs on each side re-enact the battle in traditional costumes, the making of the IED is a family fun ritual and they start as early as Christmas producing these, even younger members of the family take part in the celebration with smaller sparklers.

Not only explosive action takes place in Samos, a Greek island just off the Turkish mainland for Easter but this is also a celebration for when Greece gained independence from the Ottoman empire. Thousands of artillery shells are filled with gunpowder and placed on slopes all around the village which has taken place for over 100 years known as the custom of the rifles. Easter Sunday is when they are lit and set off creating a bellow of smoke and constant explosions a spectacular thing to watch.

Here are just a few examples of how you can celebrate your extended Easter weekend a little different to ours here in the UK. if you are lucky enough to be anywhere near here over the holidays why not witness some of the extraordinary celebrations first hand and get that little bit of a pyro fix early.

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PASSFIRE – The Adventure Continues

Here at Epic, we have been following the exploits and adventures of brothers Jesse and Jeremy Veverka from the USA, as they criss-cross the globe creating the biggest ‘fireworks’ documentary film ever made.

Their mission is to visit as many countries as possible to document their attitudes and the tradition/religious connotations towards fireworks as possible. The journey started in January 2013 and will continue (funding permitting) until they have visited as many countries as possible for their film and documentary series about pyrotechnics.

In late March, the team left Spain for the sunny shores of Portugal for the next leg of the adventure. Portugal has a long firework history and just love their motor rockets and smaller salutes called ‘bombettes’. The motor rockets are loaded with effects and reach an incredible 200m altitude.

Years ago, the Portuguese, like the ancient Chinese used bamboo type canes and packed them with black powder and chemical stars filled them with effects and then reinforced them with wire resulting in no two of them ever being exactly the same. They also have some unusual and frankly dangerous looking beasties called ‘strong battery’ or BF which unlike a display shell have multiple effects slowly released as they are not under pressure in the loose wrapping resulting in a large but not widespread explosion or spread.

As the second week of April looms large, the Passfire team left Portugal for the beautiful shores of Italy to see their traditional ‘cannister shells’ and ‘ring stars’.

The Italians, of course, are credited with adding the colour and effects to the Art of Pyrotechnics way back in the fourteenth century and of the 60 or so firework specialists around in Europe at the time, the majority of them were Italian descendants.

Around the World, the production of fireworks depends heavily on the burst charge but each country has their own raw material to make it with. Over in China, for example, they use the rice husk (the outer casing on the grain – a bit like wheat bran) in Mexico, they use the cotton seed husk but in Italy, as they are known mainly for grape production for wine, they use cork. It is lightweight, robust and absorbent. They also create star rings rather than individual stars which makes the resultant burst more precise. The rings are then stacked into the tube and the middle packed with burst charge.

Off then to the next destination – Greece. Whilst the Greeks had little influence on the history of fireworks, they have been using them widely in their religious festivals, particularly the Christian history of Greece and its Isles. One of these events is the annual Rouketopolemos or Rocket battle in Chios where two opposing churches fire rockets across the town in an attempt to hit the bell in the tower of the opposite church. All very dramatic and more than a little dangerous and the Veverkas’ certainly had their work cut out filming at the event but they got some great footage and even managed to be interviewed by Greek TV about their visit and film production. Having been a visitor myself to Greece (Zakynthos) in the past at the same time as a similar festival a few years ago, these events whilst dramatic are definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Next stop – Malta

Check out our blog post next month to see what the brothers have been up to on the next leg of the Passfire journey.

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Fireworks For Easter 2014

Easter this year falls on 20th April which is quite late, but by the same token, it will be even closer to Summer-time and as such, should be a really nice weekend. Here in the UK, Easter has always been a fairly quiet and respectful event but over in Greece, they do things a little differently!

Anyone who has been to Greece or any one of its beautiful islands will know that they are huge fans of everything pyro. I recall arriving at my hotel in Zakynthos, on my first trip to Greece and was just changing for a quiet night out when all I could hear was what I originally thought was gunfire (which I was later advised was also commonplace as they shoot them in the air at weddings!), to find that it was, in fact, St Denis’s annual festival which is always accompanied by fireworks (St Denis AKA St Dionysios the patron Saint of the Island).

It comes as no surprise (to me at least) to learn that there is another of the islands with a similar tradition. On the eve of Easter Sunday (Holy Saturday) on the lovely island of Chios, two churches from rival villages Aghios Markos and Panagia Ereithiani celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ in a very special and unique way – they engage in a ‘rocket war’ known locally as Rouketopolemos. This is not a case of a couple of rockets being fired into the night sky, they launch up to 80,000 of these little rockets in large salvos. The objective of this traditional ‘fight’ is to hit the bell tower of the opposing church which is around 400 metres away.

Historically, it is said that this event has been going on since the days of the Ottoman Empire rule in the mid 16th century when the ‘battle’ actually involved real cannon fire until sense eventually prevailed in the late 19th century when the practice of using live cannons was prohibited.

Today, great care is taken on the days leading up to the event to protect both of the ancient churches and surrounding structures from the possibility of fire damage with boards, metal sheeting and wire mesh. During any let up in the ‘rocket fight’ locals fire their own rockets and small barrages to keep the momentum going. The ‘fight’ goes on into the wee small hours and each of the parishes remains resolute that they are the winner and on to the next year it continues.

I suppose, compared with some of the things we do for Bonfire Night (I will say one thing, Bonfire Societies; need I say more?!) this is quite tame but remains something that I would still love to see first hand and may this tradition continue for many years to come.

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