Easter Celebrations in Corfu, Greece: A unique experience!

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Easter in Greece is a special time of the year. Unlike the rest of the world that favors Christmas and the New Year in this respect, the Greeks seem to be in waiting for Easter all year round for a real celebration. And how can it not be so with so many festivities and delicacies in store? Wherever in Greece you may be, the evening of Good Friday will find you outside a church holding a brown candle, waiting to follow the Epitaph procession around the streets. As you walk with your lit candle in the semi-darkness, you cannot help but participate with piety and respectful silence as this ritual commemorates the death of Jesus and His placing in the tomb. The following day of course carries a message of joy and rebirth. At midnight on Easter Saturday, holding a white candle this time, you return to the same churchyard, in time to share the joyful message of Resurrection as fireworks light up the sky.

Indeed, wherever you are in Greece, Easter is a celebration of stark noise and bright lights. There is a multitude of places around the country, which are famous for special local customs. Yet, there is one part of Greece that stands out with magnificence. The island of Corfu overflows with tourists for its special Easter celebrations on a yearly basis. Crowds gather repeatedly at the historic town center with its large square (the largest in the Balkans). First, they join in at the numerous Epitaph processions around town on the evening of Good Friday.

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Next, there is the major procession on the morning of Easter Saturday around 9 am. Its feel and character is sorrowful. You stand in a crowd on the sidewalk to watch a multitude of local schools, boy scout groups and philharmonic orchestras pass by and if you are not in the know, you have no idea what it is that the locals keep whispering to each other about. Their eyes are seeking out the “Old” philharmonic of the town. They are waiting with baited breath for the first notes of  “Amleto”  that only this philharmonic has the honorary right to play exclusively. “Amleto” (Hamlet) is from Faccio’s opera and it is a soulful piece of music that is greatly loved by the locals. As the mournful notes finally rise up into the crisp Corfiot air in loud crescendos, there is not one dry eye left among the locals who await these moments all year round as a special treat. The procession ends with church banners and the gilt casket of the preserved body of St Spyridon; the patron saint of Corfu.

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But the sadness of the hour does not last long. Unlike the rest of Greece, Corfu doesn’t have to wait till midnight on Easter Saturday in order to change its mood to one of excitement and happiness. As spectacular as the firework display is here at midnight, it fades in comparison to the celebration of ‘First Resurrection’ that takes place only an hour or so after the end of the procession. Crowds gather at the edge of the square by Liston (an arched street that was modeled after Rue Rivoli in Paris and which was made by the French during their occupation of the island).

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Hoards of both tourists and locals clear the streets and stand under balconies or at the square, away from the buildings. The locals come out on their balconies all over  town and at the strike of eleven throw big pots (botides) to the ground, making a loud crashing noise. The custom is very old and it is believed that it signifies the noise during the Resurrection of Jesus. The crowds gawp, gasp and cheer and the atmosphere is electric. If you haven’t experienced it, you cannot imagine it and for those who have, it is still difficult to put it into words. It kindles within a uniquely heightened emotion that leaves you breathless and ecstatic. You feel the most joyful you’ve ever felt and when it’s all over, you find yourself compelled to go to the street, pick up a shard of ceramic and take it home with you for good luck.

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Every year, if I can’t be in Corfu, I sit in solitude for a few minutes to listen to Amleto in the morning of Good Saturday. This year I thought I’d share it with you.


May its sadness stir the same kind of emotion in your hearts as it does in mine. I believe it makes the joy of Resurrection that follows feel even more special and real by comparison. After all the pots have hit the ground, look out for the orchestras that begin to spread cheer all over town! Here’s a taste:

Wherever you may be this Easter, enjoy and KALO PASCHA!

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 Fellow traveler, a word of advice! Before you visit Greece for Easter, make sure to check the date of Orthodox Easter for that year as it coincides with Catholic Easter only once every few years!

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Do you love Corfu? Check out my FREE online guide to Moraitika and Messonghi! Unmissable if you’re planning to visit the island!

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10 responses to “Easter Celebrations in Corfu, Greece: A unique experience!

  1. Easter is also the most important festival in Spain but the best Easter I ever had was in Crete. We spent it with our Greek friends and went to the wife’s village on Good Friday, where they paraded the saint through the streets, then to the husband’s village on the Saturday. After the midnight ceremony, the priest rang the church bell and cried, ‘Kyrie eleison’ – Christ is risen, then lit the candles of the nearest people with his own candle and they turned to light the candles of the people nearest them and so on. So a wonderful circle of light spread out from the church. Afterwards there was a great party with a bonfire upon which the effigy of Judas Iscariot was burned, and the young men leapt the bonfire. (Do not try this at home.) Then we went back and had a wonderful soup made from the kidneys and liver of the Paschal lamb.
    On Easter Sunday we were invited to my friend’s uncle’s house and Vic helped him break down the clay door of the oven where the lamb was roasting. Very evocative. After the party there we went to the mayor’s house where there was a another great party going on. Whole lambs were roasting in barbecue pits and the little children turned the spits. A truly wonderful experience!

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    • Wow Jenny! Sounds like an ace Easter time indeed! The Cretans are particularly hospitable so I bet it was easy to relax and feel like part of the family. All over Greece, Saturday night is a very festive time but in the villages there is also a lot of shotgun firing from that night and all through Easter day. Every time they cry ‘Christos Anesti’ they sort of reach out for the gun. Fun times 🙂 (although rather scary for the outsider LOL)

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      • We had, on a previous visit to Greece, visited a taverna with a big notice requesting that nobody should fire a rifle INSIDE the building. The proprietor said it was a problem every time there was a party! 🙂

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  2. It’s a dream of mine to visit Corfu at Easter, and your fantastic post made my wish more intense. In the early ’60s my father was a member of the royal guard, and they would go to Corfu before Easter and in July to set things up for the royal family visit. The stories I’ve heard have brought this island close to my heart, and still I’ve never managed to visit! It is very high on my destination priority list though 🙂

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  3. So your dad must have visited the (then) Royal home in Mon Repos. My dad used to cook there, if I remember well, for British officers. Perhaps they had met even, who knows? Maria mou, I wish you to do Easter in Corfu at least once in your lifetime. I bet you’ll love it. If the Gods are good with us, we might even be together at the same time so that we may share in the excitement 🙂

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  4. Pingback: How to dye Easter eggs the way your granny used to | Effrosyni's blog·

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