Today, at midnight, Easter is celebrated by both Orthodox and Catholics. I’ve written in the past about Greek Easter customs, mentioning in passing how, in most places, the celebrations include fireworks.
There is one place, however, that takes this to the next level: Vrontados, on the Greek island of Chios. Here, two rival parishes engage in a most unusual and dangerous Easter tradition that has been taking place quite possibly since the Ottoman era. The churches, Agios Marcos (St. Mark) and Panaghia Ereithiani (Holy Mary on Erythai-the ancient name of Vrontados), sit on opposite hillsides about 400 meters away from one another. Every year, they recreate a yearly “Rocket War”, which is exactly what it sounds like.
According to Atlas Obscura, real cannons were used until 1889 in this annual performance, which no one really seems to know the origin of. Their cannons outlawed and confiscated, the two churches had to resort to homemade bottle rockets that are produced throughout the year for the fiery spectacle that draws a high number of tourists.
Indeed, tourism may just be the only reason the tradition has survived this long. Most residents are understandably not big fans of up to 80,000 unstable fire sticks screaming through the sky and slamming into the bell towers of their churches while they attempt to attend mass inside. As the rocket builders blow off digits and sometimes lose their lives preparing for the battle, the less enthusiastic board up buildings and try to protect as much as possible with wire mesh.
By the next morning, ears are ringing, throats are filled with smoke and sulfur, fires have been put out, and burns have been treated, but a winner is never officially decided on. The sign of victory is the most direct hits afflicted on the rival, but every year both congregations declare themselves the winners, agree to disagree, and promise to settle the score next year.
As for me, watching the Vrontado rocket war is all good and great, but I attended the midnight Mass in a small, quiet monastery that’s a short 5′ walk from my place while Electra and the wee one caught some much-needed Zs. I guess I am getting older!
You think of bunnies as cute, fuzzy, little darlings who like nothing better than hiding Easter eggs, don’t you? Well, back in the Middle Ages they didn’t give you chocolate. They bloody murdered you! And if you don’t believe me, check out these illustrations, courtesy of The Poke, compiled from a variety of Medieval manuscripts.
Happy Easter, everyone!