On the Greek island of Chios the locals have a tradition to spice things up for Easter. Besides the traditional egg cracking and conventional fireworks, a rocket war takes place between two local churches during the divine liturgy of Holy Saturday night. “Rouketopolemos” (literally Rocket-War) is the name of the traditional event held annually at Easter in the town of Vrontados on the Greek island of Chios.
Two opposing parishes of the town spend the evening just before Orthodox Easter Sunday firing tens of thousands of homemade rockets at each other’s church — while the more pious among them attend mass inside. The two rival parishes are St. Mark’s and Panaghia Erythiani (“Red Madonna”), the respective churches built on two hilltops about 400 meters away from each other. The objective is to hit the bell tower of the church of the other side. The rockets are wooden sticks loaded with an explosive mixture containing gunpowder and launched from grooved platforms.
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Direct hits on each belfry are supposedly counted on the next day to determine the winner, but each parish invariably claims victory over the other. The result of this apparent disagreement is that both parishes agree to settle the score next year, and the rivalry is thus perpetuated.
Many rockets go astray, causing parishioners to rush frantically for cover. Over the years people have been seriously injured and even died due to accidents. Locals admit that the custom is dangerous, while others say they are sick of having to repair their damaged homes. However, the tradition has been kept alive all these years and- as it seems – it will continue for many more.
The origin of the dangerous custom is unclear. Local tradition holds that it goes back to the Ottoman era. According to local lore it was earlier performed with real cannons, until Ottoman authorities prohibited their use in 1889.