Philadelphia, PA – Red and Green rockets exploded over Evangelismos Greek Orthodox church on Saturday night. The traditional fireworks display normally conducted on the island of Chios kicked off Easter as Father Alexandros announced, Christos Anesti!
Every year on the evening before Orthodox Easter, the sky above Chios – a northern Greek island close to Turkey – is lit by hundreds of celebratory rockets fired between two rival parishes in a traditional good-natured rocket war known as “rouketopolemos”.
With candles held in hand, parishioners of Evangelismos stood outside in the church parking lot listening to the Liturgy in Greek. Across the street, in the neighborhood playground, members of the “Chiotes Society of Philadelphia” had prepared a fireworks display tradition, brought straight from their Island home.
One of the legends the tradition is said to be founded on says that the Ottomans who were in control at the time, outlawed the Greeks from firing off canon’s any longer during Easter. However, the Greeks persuaded them to allow them to celebrate Easter in another manner which continues today and has become popularized in several villages.
Villagers from rival parishes Aghios Markos and Panagia Ereithiani, in the Municipality of Vrontados, create the handmade rockets in their own homes and shops. The two rival villages compile the rockets into large salvos, which are then set off on the annual celebration marking the Resurrection of Christ, and aimed directly at each other’s church bell towers. It is estimated that the yearly production of rockets produces some 70 thousand to 80 thousand small missiles. The winning village is the one which has managed to score the most direct hits on their rival’s church, though it is often difficult to produce an accurate tally.