Sunday, April 8, 2012


There is so much more to Easter in Corfu than bunnies and eggs and fashion parades. I hope the following will interest you – and maybe inspire you to join us next year!

This weekend it is Easter for the Western Church. Easter will be celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and thus here in Corfu, in one week’s time, on April 15. The dates of Easter are calculated according to different calendars by each Church – the Julian and the Gregorian, and this causes the difference in the dates of all other Christian festivals that arise from Easter, such as Lent and Whitsun/Pentecost. It can  fairly be said that Easter is the most important festival in the Orthodox calendar.

Here in Corfu there is a sizeable Catholic community that has existed since 1310. Today, the majority of the Catholics are of Maltese descent – their forefathers having been brought here by the British during the years of the Protectorate, as builders and agricultural workers.
By special dispensation of the Pope, permission was granted about fifty years ago for the Catholics of Corfu (and subsequently of other Catholic bishoprics in Greece) to celebrate Easter at the same time as the overwhelmingly Greek Orthodox population, for the sake of family harmony – a dispensation which to my mind shows an admirable sensitivity to the needs of minorities which could well be copied by others in today’s world of religion and politics.

Easter in Corfu is a great and wonderful celebration, a time when something quite remarkable happens every year. Strangers are welcomed to the island and into its homes, families come together again, the occasion is celebrated with great pomp, ceremony and reverence, and with traditions so old their origins are long forgotten. The meaning of Easter is not forgotten however, nor is it played down. The terrible fact of the Crucifixion, the agony, is there for all to see, in the form of the graphic images portrayed on the great Crucifixes in the churches, some of them carrying the Crown of Thorns upon them, others displaying a wreath made of flowers.

We do not only remember the horror of the Crucifixion, however, we remember too the joy and the hope represented by the Resurrection.
Throughout Holy Week, the TV channels play films with a religious theme; many people fast for that one week at least. And there is a sense of expectation, a waiting, for the release that comes with the declaration of the Resurrection, at midnight on Easter Saturday.
Devout, lukewarm, or disbelieving - no-one can fail to be drawn into the atmosphere of Easter in Corfu.

 One very attractive Easter custom, beloved of children especially, is to dye eggs red. Other colours are possible, but shiny red eggs really do symbolize Easter for most people. The dyeing takes place on the Thursday of Holy Week.

On Good Friday (Megali Paraskevi) I usually accompany my daughter to the home of friends who live next door to one of Corfu’s ancient monasteries. We sit and talk quietly in their lovely Corfiot garden, waiting for the bell to announce the exodus of the priests with the Crucifix and the traditional ‘Epitaphios’ or funeral bier, empty but decorated by the women and girls of the parish with fresh flowers from their own gardens. There is a choir, and for the next hour the parishioners will walk their parish, singing solemn songs. This is the day when we recall the Descent of Christ from the Cross.

It is a day of solemnity, of restrained behaviour and sombre clothing and ends with the Epitaphios procession in town, from the Cathedral, accompanied by dignitaries both religious and secular, the odd visiting celebrity, bands and choirs. The atmosphere is amazing – a huge crowd of people, standing quietly, with none of the uneasiness common to crowds in many of our modern cities.
But overnight something changes and on Saturday (Megalo Savvato) an almost irrepressible sense of celebration and joy is waiting to erupt. The day begins very early, with the strange and wonderful re-enactment of the earthquake that followed the Resurrection, according to the Bible – this takes place at the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary of Strangers in the town. Members of the church congregation shake and rattle the church furniture and stagger about in a vivid demonstration. There is then a procession in the town of Corfu on Saturday morning, in commemoration of yet another of Saint Spyridon’s miraculous interventions that saved Corfu from famine, and the magnificent Philharmonic bands are to be heard again.

At 11.00, there is an event that has become synonymous with Easter in Corfu, that attracts more attention than any other custom at this time, and yet is possibly of pagan origin rather than Christian. It celebrates the First Resurrection and is called the ‘botides’ in Corfiot Greek, this being the local name of the great clay pots that feature in the ceremony. .

 All over the island people throw pots and china out of their windows at this time, as a gesture to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck and happiness. In the town, however, everyone gathers at the spot called ‘Pentofanaro’, at the end of the Liston, where the tall old houses cluster tightly. The balconies are draped with crimson hangings, and filled with people who are balancing huge clay pots, filled with water, on the railings. There is a buzz of excited anticipation and then, precisely at eleven, the pots are dropped and hurled from above, to shatter on the street below. 

Immediately afterwards the bands trot through the alleyways at a run, playing appropriately allegro marches.
The islanders spend the rest of the day preparing for the feasting of Sunday, while visitors enjoy seeing old friends or exploring the island which looks breathtakingly beautiful at this time of year, garlanded with wild flowers of impossible variety.

For as long as I can remember, we always went in to Corfu Town, to the Esplanade, to witness the declaration of the Resurrection by the Archbishop with the impressive firework display that follows. The size of the crowds, the absence of parking anywhere near the centre of town, having toddlers who inevitably fall asleep and have to be carried, means that our family now usually joins in the celebrations outside town. If it is at all possible to attend the celebrations in the centre of town, it is an experience never to be forgotten. 
With the announcement of the Resurrection ; Christos Anesti! - by the priest, candles are lit, kisses exchanged, and then there is a spectacular fireworks display , now set off very professionally, but I do remember one year, a long time ago, when the setting off of the fireworks was the task of the military, most of whom were National Servicemen of limited experience. Their calculations were off, and rockets hissed and snaked their way across the Main Square at ground level, exploding at people’s feet. Luckily there were no major injuries and these days our firework displays are properly performed high in the sky.

Immediately after the Resurrection ceremony, most people go home or to a restaurant, ostensibly to break the fast of Holy Week, with a meal beginning with the traditional Easter soup called Mayeritsa. Made from finely chopped offal, with masses of lettuce, dill, spring onions, and lemon, and sometimes finished off with egg and lemon sauce stirred in, it is so delicious that we always wonder why we don’t make it more often.

Everone tries to get home with their candles still alight, and it is customary to daub the sign of the cross on the door lintel with the flame of the candle.

Our family always spends Easter Sunday together, as indeed do most families in Corfu. We roast a lamb or a goat as well as a selection of other meats and sausages, and there are salads and dips and jacket potatoes done under the spit that invariably get forgotten in the excitement and end up as inedible and carbonized. The wine flows, the red eggs are cracked with everyone trying to have the one that beats all the others. The roasting and basting, testing and carving, of the meat is very much the province of the men on this special day.

It was a slim lamb that year!

My son bakes a wonderful choice of bread, my daughter produces a bowl of tzatziki big enough to feed an army, and everyone who joins us brings a contribution. We have a very cosmopolitan group of friends, and some of these dishes are truly exotic. In spite of appetites honed by a varying number of days of fasting, there is always plenty left over to provide the basis of meals for the next few days and the dogs enjoy a bone-fest of their own.

There are so many Easter traditions that make this event such a memorable occasion. New clothes and shoes are bought, especially for children, with god-parents expected to foot the bill, as well as for the elaborate ‘lambades’ (decorated candles) that the child will take to be lit at the Resurrection ceremony. These days commerce enters the picture with Barbie-themed candles or Toy Story or whatever other kids’ tie-in toy is currently popular.
There are special sweets and cookies for the occasion, and in Corfu, sweet bread decorated with a red egg and feathers, called a colombina, is a reminder of the Venetian period of Corfu’s history.
When I was first married, I found myself, a few days before Easter, with my mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law, all up to our elbows in dough made with olive oil, sugar, flour and vanilla. These ingredients were mixed in a huge earthenware bowl, very old, kept especially for this purpose and stored for the rest of the year under clean cloth. Under Grandma’s beady, critical eye, we kneaded and mixed until she was satisfied, then shaped the dough into twists and plaits, circles and knots, and placed them in neat rows upon enormous metal baking trays, which were then taken, in convoy, to the local baker to be baked. A kind of shortbread, the quality varied from household to household, the best being like shortbread, the worst like sweet concrete. It was the custom to distribute them amongst family and friends. They were called ‘koulourakia’, koulouri meaning a circle, and are still very much part of the Easter menu..

My life in Greece can be measured in Easters, each one of them a memory of what it means to be part of a loving family, Anglo-Greek style.


Some of the photos are my own, others appear by kind permission of Aleka, Joanna, Frosso, the Corfubloggers, and Julie.


  1. Wonderfully evocative account of a The Corfiot Easter!!

  2. Fabulous word picture, as usual! How lovely to be somewhere, where the true meaning of Easter is foremost, and a whole community comes together.

    Another fascinating effort Ang.!

  3. Just found your blog! wonderful describtion of all taking place this time of the year! I have been to Corfu for easter..unforgetable! (well, love Corfu anyway!! :)
    Best greetings and "Kali Anastasi"!

    1. Anna thanks for your nice comments and welcome to my blog! Would love to know where you are - email me if you like. Regards from Angela (Grandma!)


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