Greek Easter is the biggest festival in the Orthodox church, but even greater so in Corfu with it’s own unique rituals that aren’t found anywhere else in the world. Every year these century old customs bring thousands of visitors to the island to witness over 10 days of festivities, all leading up to the great Resurrection Mass, which unfolds in vibrancy and colour that will make you fall in love with Corfu each time.
What makes the Corfiot Easter celebrations even more idyllic is the fact that it is celebrated over spring while the island’s nature bursts to life and the swirled cobalt and turquoise coastline sparkles that much brighter. It has been said by many a local that “ Corfu Easter may even be better than Corfu summer!”
Corfu is also known as the most musical island in Greece and Easter is the only time of the year that locals and visitors have the pleasure of enjoying all 18 Philharmonic Orchestras of the island playing at one single event! From streets heaving with marching bands, vivid customs, and the smell of lamb slow roasting over naked coals, you can look forward to an experience that I can assure you, you will never forget!
With the celebrations spanning a period of 10 days you may be unsure how long to come over for and what festivities are an absolute must. The best way to truly experience Easter in Corfu is to discover it in person and alongside the locals. I have had the pleasure of experiencing Corfiot Easter as a tourist with fresh eyes for many years and now after my 7th year here, consider myself a part of the island! I am going to share my Easter highlights with you as well as some top tips on all the celebrations ranging from festive preparations, how to place yourself in the middle of all the action, and where to find some scenic hikes to end it all off.
Festivities not to miss:
Monday: Bake Koulourakia
Bake koulourakia in a traditional Greek kitchen or even from the comfort of your own home
Air thick with the scent of freshly baked koulourakia cookies on Holy Week symbolises the end of lent on Corfu. These traditional Greek butter cookies are made using simple ingredients that can easily be bought at your local supermarket wherever you are in the world. Their sweet orange aroma will fill the corners of your home and perhaps you’ll even find your neighbours coming over uninvited. A fair waring though, koulourakia are terribly moreish and once you pop, you can’t stop!
Thursday: Dye eggs red
Traditionally on Holy Thursday, families across Greece dye eggs a brilliant red on Holy Thursday to symbolise the sacrificial blood of Christ. Dying these eggs in anticipation of Greek Easter is one of the oldest and most beloved Easter traditions in Greece and you can find red dye at most supermarkets in Greece. The cracking of these vibrant eggs on Easter symbolises Christ’s tomb breaking open during the resurrection. Not only do we eat the eggs at Easter, but we also play a game. Two people compete by holding their respective egg in their hand whilst attempting to crack the other person’s egg! If you would like to try your hand and dying some eggs you can find some more info here
Friday: Epitaph (Good Friday)
Epitaph, or Good Friday, is the most sombre and mournful day, yet also the most beautiful. The day starts with the sound of mourning bells, calling everyone to the Greek Easter Epitaph.
Every church in Greece houses the Easter epitaph dressed in flowers and candles, which symbolises the funeral bier of Jesus Christ.
From 14:00 until around midnight, the streets of Corfu town fill with mournful marches played by the island’s philharmonic orchestras while people line up to pay their respects and kiss the icon of Christ.
The last procession starts at 22:00 and it is the most impressive of all. The epitaph processions are accompanied by the philharmonic bands of the island, and followed by masses of worshippers, walking slowly whilst holding yellow candles and singing psalms, creating a magical atmosphere.
This particular epitaph is also accompanied by biggest philharmonic bands of the island and is renowned for its unique melodies including the Albinoni’s Adagio by the ”Old” (Red) Philharmonic, the Mariani’s Elegia Funebre and Chopin’s Marche Funèbre by The ‘Kapodistria’s’ Philharmonic and Verdi’s ‘Marcia Funebre’ by ‘Mantzaros Philharmonic’.
Saturday: Pot throwing at 11am
Corfiots mark Holy Saturday with a strange, yet old, custom referred to as the “botides” – where large clay jugs filled with water are thrown from balconies in the centre of town, smashing into pieces onto the streets below as thousands gather around to watch.
Islanders believe the custom of shattering these pots helps ward off bad spirits, and spectators take small pieces of the smashed pots home as good luck charms.
The origin of this custom is unclear, but a popular belief is that it originated with the Venetians who ruled Corfu between the 14th and 18th centuries. To mark the new year, the Venetians would throw out their old belongings to make way for new ones to make a fresh start to the new year. The Greeks adopted the custom and used clay pots over easter as this is the most important Greek religious Holiday.
- Arrive early to get a good viewing spot!
- Use the local buses if you’re not staying in Corfu Town
- If you decide to bring your own car, be sure to park it at the port and rather use the shuttle service.
- All roads leading to the Spianada Square will be closed.
- Make sure you find a nice place on the Spianada square, in front of Arcadion Hotel but with a view of Liston. Pots will be thrown from all over the surrounding area, so you don’t want to miss it.
Saturday evening: The Resurrection at midnight
We always celebrate the evening at my local village in Pelekas but Corfu Town will have a similar ceremony. At around 11pm we leave from the main square holding white candles that have been lit from the holy flame in Jerusalem. We walk around the village and meet back on the main square at about midnight. The priest chants “The Risen Christ!” which is then exclaimed by hundreds of fireworks illuminating the sky to celebrate the Resurrection. In Corfu Town the Philharmonic Orchestras shift the tone by playing cheerful melodies to celebrate the Resurrection. This also signals that the feast of tsilichourda has officially begun and will last well into the morning.
Sunday: Lamb spit with the family
Many families join to enjoy a lamb spit on Sunday. Sharing a meal of lamb is mostly reserved for religious holidays and special occasions so this is a real treat. This year we will be hosting our closest family and friends in the garden. If you don’t want to cook a lamb or don’t have the facilities to do so, you will find many ready-made lamb spits on the street corners which are just as delicious!
Monday morning: Hike from Pelekas to St Georges mountain
Meet at the Pelekas Square at around 8am
This tradition is unique to Pelekas & Vatos village and takes about 2 hours to reach the summit.
Be ready to leave the village at about 8am and follow the priest who holds a large cross along with dedicated persons holding the Virgin Mary Icon Flaboura/theotokia. You’ll notice that every home has a small table set-up outside, decorated with saint icons, while the residents wait for a blessing from the priest passing by.
Once you reach the church on top of St Georges Mountain you can look forward to enjoying a well-earned BBQ and cook mouth-watering souvlaki. En route back to Pelekas you’ll meet with the locals of Vatos village where they have a small ceremony to connect the Flaboura/theotokia.
Monday evening: Panigiri (dance festival)
Pelekas Square from 20:00
The evening is then followed with a dance festival on the main square of Pelekas where you can party until early hours of the morning
Where to stay
Be in the centre of all the activities and throw a large pot from the balcony of your accommodation in one of my suggested hotels or apartments. The suspense, the sound and the sight of huge pots smashing right before you, is a truly unique experience.
- Arcadion Hotel – the custom of breaking clay pots “Botides” makes “Arcadion” the centre of attention.
- Any apartment on the Liston
It will be hard to find any of these hotels available as many regulars hold a booking year on year but there’s no harm in checking. Be sure to arrange your large pot. I believe this is something the hotel can arrange on your behalf.
If you’d like to stay in town but not in the centre of the Botide festival check out:
You can use the local blue bus system into town and it only takes 30mins. No need to worry about leaving your car anywhere. Enjoy the festivities without the large crowds. Experience easter in a local community
How long to stay
To really enjoy the festivities try to arrive by Friday morning and stay until Sunday evening at least.
Bear in mind flights are usually fully booked during this period so be sure to book well in advance.
If you are travelling to Corfu by ferry I would suggest booking tickets online well in advance to avoid any disappointment.
There really is no Easter celebration like that of Greek Easter so be sure to experience this at least once in your life. Not to mention you’ll leave feeling full of community, appreciation for the culture and of course, really good food!
So, I hope that sharing some of my own highlights of Corfu Easter will help you to have an unforgettable trip. If you go, then I’d love to hear about it. Just tag @taxidiotisgreece on your posts or leave me a comment here.