Corfu: what a way to spend Easter*
In our eleven years of visiting this island, it is something we have been told about many times.
'You must come to Corfu at Easter,' our friend Jiannis told us. 'You will not believe it. The Greeks are famous for Easter but in Corfu, it is the best.'
And how right he was. Words cannot describe the spectacle. Photos do not do it justice. You really have to be here to understand. A strange mixture of ritual, devotion, celebration, tradition, noise, ceremony, moving music, lots of eating and lots of fireworks combine to create a heady experience on a massive scale, with some poignant moments of detail in between.
This is the place and time to come for an unforgettable long weekend break.
All week, Corfu's famous bands have been at the forefront, along with the island's mummified patron, Saint Spiridon, who is paraded through the streets on Easter Saturday on one of his four outings a year.
In the town, the celebrations are enormous. Little sign of austerity here.
Pots are hurled from the windows to great cheers from the crowds who, at the end of it all, scrabble around for a piece of broken shard for luck. For days afterwards, the red dust of shattered pottery is scattered through the town's streets and pavements.
And, at night, a candelit vigil waiting for the moment that Easter Sunday arrives, accompanied by a fanfare of crashing band music, choral voices and great rockets and firecrackers in the sky.
Services in the church, a sombre, candelit procession to the cemetery with a coffin covered in red and white carnations on Good Friday, while on Easter Monday the villagers make their way up to the cemetery church with an icon of the Virgin and Child, draped in red velvet and pinned with gold necklaces, bracelets and earrings.
And sandwiched in between, feasts up and down the island, lamb and goat roasted on the spit, hard boiled eggs dyed red (or, in our case, multi-coloured and decorated, thanks to our half-Polish neighbour from Lush Places, Mrs Champagne-Charlie), salad, wine and great big desserts.
'You must bring them,' our host insisted. 'You are all most welcome.'
And he meant it.
As we sat overlooking the hills and valleys of Corfu with these lovely people, we thought to ourselves, this is something very special.
And the highlight for us, apart from the fireworks, candles, singing and all, was an Easter egg hunt we organised for our new Greek friends' two small children.
Their joy in finding the chocolate eggs hidden in their great-uncle's garden was matched by ours when they promptly hid them all again for us to find, before the brother and sister then alternated between hiding and finding. Their pleasure was in the game rather than the chocolate.
This Greek gap year has already been a surprising experience. The heartache of homesickness does not abate, for me at least, although it is more bearable as the warm weather soaks into my bones.
But is something we will not forget in a hurry, that's for sure.
Love Maddie x
PS Since publishing this piece, I have been taken to task for the use of the word 'mummification' in relation to the body of St Spiridon. No offence was intended. As the Metafysiko website makes clear, according to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, incorruptibility differs from mummification (the artificial technique of preserving the dead body that was used by some ancient civilizations, like the Egyptians). Please see the websitefor more information.
*First published 7 May 2013. For more Corfu stories, see the book Good Morning, Corfu: A Year on a Greek Island