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Sofia Ps.
4 mins read

Easter in Corfu

To say that Easter is a big deal in Corfu Island would be an understatement. Easter in Corfu is big. Really big. For many, the Holy Week (the week starting with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter Sunday) is the most important week of the whole year.

In Greece, we celebrate the traditional Christian Easter (Pascha) by remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion in the country). Easter season starts 48 days before Easter Sunday; people prepare by going to church, contemplating on their faith, keeping the Great lent, etc. Most, however, celebrate only the last period of this, which is the Holy Week.

In Corfu, the Holy Week is truly out of this world. There are many reasons why you should spend Easter in Corfu, but my personal favourites are the old town, the people, the traditions, and the music.

Tsoureki, cookies and red Easter eggs on a table in Greece celebrating Easter
When in Greece, make sure to try tsoureki (type of fragrant brioche) and Easter cookies, they are delicious!

The Old Town

Botides jars and a view of old Corfu town
Don't forget to buy "Botides" (clay-jars like the ones in the picture) in order to smash them on Saturday before Easter! Read more about this fascinating custom below -->

The town of Corfu is absolutely stunning. With many of its buildings being 400-500 years old, the old Corfu town is a UNESCO world heritage site. When you walk down the narrow lanes (called kandounia), seeing the old houses, churches and citadels, you really feel that you’ve travelled back in time and you’re lost in a Venetian medieval city. Of course, you can visit the town any time of the year. However, during Easter time it transforms into something very special. It’s celebrating and breathing and living along with its people. The red badges and flower decorations, the purple lights (symbol of grief), the smell of fogatsa (a type of local brioche) and other local delicacies and the music that’s always playing; all that create a magical atmosphere.

The people

The people of Corfu are always friendly and happy to welcome visitors to their gorgeous island. Many of them are passionate about local history and culture and are willing to share their knowledge. During Easter time this friendliness is multiplied by ten! They prepare for the Holy Week for many days -even weeks- ahead, devoted to making everything perfect, down to the last detail.

Easter red eggs in Greek Orthodox tradition
On Thursday we dye the eggs red and decorate them. On Easter Sunday we play the egg-fight or egg-tapping and the one with the stronger egg is the winner!

They feel very proud and grateful that they have the privilege to continue the island’s special Easter customs, so they really put their heart and soul into this. Meeting people, watching them chat in the very characteristic local singing-like dialect and talking to them about Corfu and Easter… will be one the highlights of your visit.

The music

If you know anything about Corfu, you’ll know that Corfu means music and music means Corfu. Having a very long and significant music history, the Corfiot identity is intertwined with it. Music lies deep within our souls. This becomes evident during Easter time. The Philharmonic Societies (bands) of the island play incredible music at various concerts and events. The most magnificent event is on Good Friday and it’s called the Epitaph. It’s like a symbolic funeral for Jesus Christ, where traditionally the whole town participates in the funerary procession. In Corfu, there are 33 epitaphs on Good Friday. The bands accompany them playing music by Albinoni, Verdi, Chopin, and Mariani.

The last one, the Great Epitaph, starts at around 10 pm and it’s absolutely amazing. All the bands of the town, as well as the clergy, the officials, the schools, the scouts, the choirs, and thousands of visitors participate in the Great Epitaph. When you’re standing there, under the purple lights, listening to the Philharmonic Society of Corfu playing the Adagio in G minor it’s impossible not to be deeply moved.

The traditions

Greek Easter candle – Lambada
On Saturday, people are going to the night church service with their own lambada (Easter candle). At midnight, the bells are chiming and the priests are singing celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then the Holy light passes from the priests to the people, lighting their candles.

There are so many ancient traditions and customs, that spending Easter in Greece is an unforgettable experience. These customs have a deeper meaning, for instance, we dye the eggs red as a symbol of the blood of Jesus. So, if you see something that seems strange, don’t be afraid to ask a Greek friend what it means! Everywhere in Greece, you can experience a unique Holy Week; follow an Epitaph procession, attend a Saturday night church service under candlelight, watch the fireworks at midnight with friends, join a game of egg-tapping and eat roasted lamb on Easter Sunday.

Easter celebratory fireworks in Corfu Island
When the priests start singing that “Christ is risen from the dead” the fireworks start!

In Corfu however, you have the chance to experience several unique local customs as well. Therefore, the island is a very popular place during the Easter holidays. A downside to this is that the town especially can be extremely crowded at times.

During the Holy Week, there’s something different happening every day. Apart from the Great Epitaph procession mentioned above, there are many other things to do! Watch a grown man being thrown into a big barrel of water at the custom of “Mastela” or experience an (artificial) earthquake in a church at 6 am as a recreation of the earthquake at the crucifixion. In addition, one of the most spectacular things is the pot-smashing custom. On Saturday morning, everybody throws decorated clay jars full of water (called Botides) out of their windows and balconies smashing them on the ground. We call this the first Resurrection and yes, it is as fun as it sounds!

People throwing clay jars out their windows as part of the Botides Easter custom in Corfu Island
You wouldn't believe the noise! A whole town smashing things at the same time!

When the pots are smashed the bands start marching while playing cheerful music. It’s time for a celebration!

On Saturday at midnight and on Easter Sunday don’t forget to say the traditional greeting: Christos Anesti! (Christ is Risen) to which the proper answer is Alithos Anesti! (He is Risen indeed).

Woman with a Botis shard in Corfu island during Easter
(☞゚ヮ゚)☞ The Botis shard makes a wonderful souvenir!

Bonus Soundtrack

Easter song by contemporary musician Ellie Ketentzian (alumna of the Ionian University)

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