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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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