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Easter in Corfu Town

GUIDE TO THE IONIAN ISLANDS

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Considered by many Greeks to be the ultimate Hellenic celebration of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, Easter in Corfu Town is at once solemn, spectacular, thought-provoking and joyous.

The Greek Orthodox Church bases its liturgy on the Julian calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian version, so Easter in Greece can take place up to four weeks after the celebrations of western churches. One consequence of this “late” Easter is that the weather is usually excellent and everyone can enjoy the many joys of spring.

Statues of the Virgin Mary and the local patron saint, St. Spridon, are borne through the streets, followed by high-ranking clergy, civic officials, bands, choirs and much of the town’s populace. 

Residents of Corfu Town begin their Easter festivities on Palm Sunday, as families come together to prepare traditional Paschal treats, such as delicious almond and honey cakes. On Maundy Thursday many locals head to church to listen to readings from the gospels. After these services, the town’s bells ring out, signalling the arrival of a day of mourning.

On Good Friday residents are awoken by the solemn tolling of the town’s church bells and by the afternoon the streets are thronging with processions, each one headed by an epitaphios (an icon of Christ). The last procession of the day, led by the most richly adorned epitaphios, begins its rounds at about 10.00pm, accompanied by the mournful music of the town’s brass and wind bands.

On Easter Saturday, not such an important day in the western liturgical calendar, celebrations reach their climax. Statues of the Virgin Mary and the local patron saint, St. Spridon, are borne through the streets, followed by high-ranking clergy, civic officials, bands, choirs and much of the town’s populace.

At 11.00am sharp the resurrection of Christ is announced and cries of Christós Anésti (Christ is risen) nearly drown out the peeling bells. This is a cue for those watching the procession from their balconies or windows to launch earthenware pots down onto the streets (at a safe distance from crowds!) in a show of renewal, purification and renunciation of the devil. The smashing of thousands of pots, the tintinnabulation of hundreds of bells, the hearty roar of the crowds, and the uplifting music of the town’s massed bands and choirs create a joyous cacophony.

The faithful are not finished yet, however. As night falls, Orthodox believers crowd the area around Pano Platia (one of the town’s squares) and Catholics head to their cathedral for a devotional mass. At midnight, the miracle of Christ’s resurrection is once more proclaimed, prompting a spectacle of flickering light as thousands of candles are lit and the night sky is illuminated by a kaleidoscope of fireworks.

Easter Sunday in Corfu Town is comparatively quiet. After mass, many families head out to the country or get together with friends living in other towns around the island. Dining tables groan with whole roast lambs, wine flows, and epic lunches continue well into the evening. Those partaking do so safe in the knowledge that they will have plenty of time to recover the next day, a public holiday.

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