Easter in Crete

I didn’t think anything of it the first time it happened. I had just arrived in Plakias, on the southern coast of Crete, and was sitting outside a café, waiting for some much-needed refreshment.Then it happened again.

There was an explosively loud bang, which seemed to emanate from the jetty. A glance in that direction noted only a group of nonchalant-seeming locals, none of whom appeared to be armed.Clearly it could not have been a bomb, and even the local hire cards seemed unlikely to backfire quite like that.

It was a day or so, and many sudden explosions, later that I finally realised what was going on. It was a few days before the Greek Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated, at least on Crete, as a cross between a religious festival and the English Guy Fawkes night.The sound of fireworks grew more frequent, until, on the Saturday evening, the celebrations reached their culmination. Fireworks were even set off in the middle of the road.

I was fortunate enough to be taken to the church service in the nearby village of Mirthios, a couple of miles above Plakias. The church was packed, as was the tiny courtyard outside, where I was standing. Boys who had obviously never heard of the firework code stood on surrounding roofs and let off fireworks with great abandon throughout the service, but I was still not prepared for the finale.At midnight, the priest came out into the courtyard with a candle, from which villagers (and the occasional tourist) lit candles they had purchased earlier. It was supposed to be good luck to reach home with the candle still alight. Having seen what came next, I think it is probably good luck to get home at all.

As the priest emerged, the church bells started to ring. An interesting technique was used for this – all the clappers had been tied together somehow, so that all four bells could be rung by pulling a single rope.Meanwhile, back on the rooftops, the fireworks reached a crescendo and an effigy of Judas was burnt. A German tourist next to me performed an interesting dance as he discovered that his hair was smouldering from stray sparks.  The overall effect of smoke, flames, noise and explosions made me half expect to see the BBC war correspondent, Kate Adie.

Suddenly it was all over, and I returned to my hotel, where the proprietor offered us Easter biscuits, coloured hard boiled eggs and Metaxa from his Easter table.The timing of Greek Easter had not been one of my considerations in planning the trip. I had chosen April as I wanted to see the wild flowers at their best, but this was an experience I would not have liked to miss.

This trip took place in April 1995

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