Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday

Just before midnight...
Just before midnight...

Holy Saturday is the last day of Holy Week and hence of Lent. Whilst Christ rests in peace, a mood of grief reins around the church but everyone of course knows that in only a few hours the mood will switch in the blink of an eye to the exact opposite. Because the climax of the Easter Season is reached during the night of Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday: we celebrate Christ’s resurrection. Catholics are happy to do this during the Saturday evening whereas the Greek Orthodox faithful do so to the second at the time of the resurrection.

Easter Mass

Easter Mass starts during Saturday evening and lasts several hours with its numerous lessons. Only a few of the faithful attend the entire mass. The churches do not fill up appreciably until about an hour before midnight, then the interior of the church and the churchyard are filled to bursting. The faithful wait, mostly in festive clothing and with a decorated Easter candle, the lambáda, in their hands, for the redeeming cry of the priest. At the point of midnight he calls out: “Christós anésti!” – Christ is risen!

The mood is similar to that on New Year’s Eve. Suddenly the tension that has built up during the long wait is released in joyful mutual congratulations. “Christós anésti!” to which the reply is “Alithós anésti!” Truly He is risen! Rockets are set off at the same time to announce the resurrection far and wide.

Easter candle and cross marked in soot

This is followed by the private part of the Holy Vigil. You head back home, always taking care not to let the candle you brought with you go out. With this candle a cross is marked in soot on the front door lintel and this should ideally last until the following year’s Easter festival.

Then within the circle of the family there is copious dining. The time might seem rather late and therefore unusual but anyone who has observed the rules during Lent will once more have an opportunity of an unrestrained meal with meat for the first time.

Easter egg cracking

In addition to meat, fish and dairy produce, eggs are now allowed back on the menu. With this, the role of the red-painted Easter eggs as decorative objects suddenly comes to a halt and they can now be eaten. This occurs in an entertaining ritual that absolutely cannot be dispensed with on Easter Vigil, Easter egg cracking or “Ostereierditschen” – at least this it is what is usually known as in many regions in Germany. In this egg duel, two random contestants bash their eggs together. If your egg cracks, you’ve lost. It is understandable that the selection of the egg and the grip and bashing technique quickly become a scientific matter.

Easter soup "Magirítsa"

The culinary classic of the Holy Vigil is Magirítsa Easter soup. Since in the course of Sunday, in other words in only a few hours, the obligatory Easter lamb will be turning on the spit, its intestines will of course have already been removed. And these will now turn up in the Magirítsa. Which sounds gruesome but in fact they can taste very good. And incidentally there are a lot of other things to eat that are a foretaste of what awaits on Easter Sunday: celebration, eating, drinking, with the family, with friends and ideally outside in the spring weather.

Winner’s egg and loser’s egg
Winner’s egg and loser’s egg
Easter lamb and kokorétsi
Easter lamb and kokorétsi

The burning of Judas

One really earthy custom on Milos on Easter Sunday is the burning of Judas. Here a life-size effigy of Judas is hanged from gallows and then set on fire. This spectacle is put on in several villages, usually at different times. The gallows are put up early and a notice often announces the time of the burning. One thing that you might find a little disconcerting in this is that the Judas to be turned to ash never looks like a disciple but instead usually wears a black suit from the pockets of which pour banknotes.

The burning of Judas in Plaka and remains of Judas in Triovasalos


One unusual and quite bizarre custom is the simulated war between the neighbouring villages and traditionally “mutually hostile” villages of Triovasalos and Pera Triovasalos. Here they pelt each other with home-made explosive devices albeit ones that ideally cannot injure anyone. To guarantee this, representatives of the two opposing camps that feel called to the front position themselves on the roofs of the houses near the field between the two villages. The two parties are positioned offset to the side of each other so that in the end the explosive devices thrown land on empty ground. Nevertheless the whole thing looks not to be without danger because of the considerable explosive force.

There are various versions of the history of this custom. According to one, decades ago the inhabitants of the two villages used to throw stones at each other once a year, for whatever reason. After the Second World War, access to explosives was easy so people switched to making their own explosive detonators. According to rumours, there are still stocks of German dynamite on Milos.

The procedure of the “Dynamítes,” as the mutual bombardment on Easter Sunday is known, is the same every year. The two facing churches of Agios Spirídonas in Triovasalos and Agios Geórgios in Pera Triovasalos are so to speak the headquarters of the warring parties that have both hoisted their war banners. Accompanied by constant bell ringing they bombard each other until the ammunition runs out. The priests also have a major role to play here. Using microphones, they encourage the spectators to chant the war cry “Alimaaaaa!” over and over and appear very worldly here as a mix of moderator and mountebank. Once the resources of one side are finally exhausted, the other side is declared the victor.

Update 05/20