Impressive and noisy, Easter in Corfu is reminiscent of the famous custom of the “Botides”, which takes place on Holy Saturday in the heart of the beautiful town. Nature is dressed in green, there is the scent of flowers and the town prepares for a great religious event.
The custom of the Botides in Spianada on Corfu is a combination of Venetian Traditions and Orthodox customs.
The Holy Saturday in Corfu
On Holy Saturday, the people of Corfu wake up early. At 6am, in the church of Panagia ton Xenon, an impressive Ionic-style basilica with three naves, there is a re-enactment of the earthquake that, according to the Scriptures, followed the First Resurrection.
At 9am, the procession in honour of Saint Spyridon begins at the church of Saint Spyridon in Corfu. The procession was introduced in 1550 when Corfu was saved from a famine. The paradox is that, unlike in all other parts of Greece, the procession of the epitaph takes place at the same time. The procession of the epitaph on Holy Saturday was only introduced during the years of Venetian rule, as the Venetians had banned processions and the epitaph in the city.
The famous Philharmonic Orchestra of Corfu accompanies the procession – you may have heard that Corfu has one of the best organised and most “melodic” Philharmonic Orchestras and their music is really wonderful. Traditionally, they play certain music on Holy Saturday: the Marcia Funebre (Epitaph March) from Beethoven’s Herodic, Michelli’s Calde Lacrime.
A few hours later, the mourning gives way to… hustle and bustle, as people gather in Spianada and Liston – and wherever they can – to enjoy one of our country’s most evocative Easter customs: the Botides.
To signal the First Resurrection at 11am, the people of Corfu throw huge jugs full of water – the botides – from their balconies. The botides are clay jugs with a narrow spout and two handles on the side to carry them. The balconies are decorated and the residents tie red ribbons to the jugs – red is the colour of Corfu.
The custom of smashing the jugs at Easter in Corfu has a long history, dating back to Venetian times, but there are various theories about how it came about. And since we are in Greece, where Christianity and the ancient Greek religion of the 12 gods are intertwined, the theories have their references to both of them.
Some say the custom comes from Venetian Catholics, where people threw away their old things at the beginning of the year so that the new year could bring them new and better things. The people of Corfu adopted this custom, but replaced the old things with jars to make more noise.
The second theory refers to the time of the ancient Greeks, who celebrated the beginning of the agricultural and vegetation period in April by throwing away their old jars to fill the new ones with the new crop. Some people in Corfu will surely tell you that, regardless of the truth, Corfiots like to drive away evil with their jars, signifying both the end of winter lethargy and the rebirth of nature.
If you happen to witness this pot-smashing event, be sure to pick up a piece and keep it with you all year round – the locals will tell you it will bring you good luck.
And when the hustle and bustle of botides-breaking is over, the Philharmonic Orchestras parade through the streets playing happy music this time – the march “Greeks do not be afraid” dominates the air.
Easter customs at Holy Saturday in Corfu
Until the evening of the Resurrection, Corfu is flooded with people who normally attend church services or the small events and customs that take place all over the city.
One of the most impressive but also fun customs is the Mastelas custom, which is revived in the shopping centre of Corfu. According to this custom, the locals set up a half barrel decorated with ribbons and myrtles and invite passers-by to throw coins – this brings good luck. At the end of the day, when the bells of the resurrection ring, someone has to dive into the barrel and take out the coins.
What the coins are for, we do not know exactly, but the locals say they go to the community. A few centuries ago, when the custom began, the locals used to catch a passer-by wandering ignorantly through the town and throw him into the barrel to collect the coins.
Tips for the event
If you want to enjoy the beautiful Easter in Corfu and experience the revival of the custom, you need to get up early on Saturday morning and secure a spot at Spianada Square, where it gets very crowded from 10am.
If you know the streets of the town, you can also stop at the intersection of Theotoki and Paleologou streets, or at Guilford Street to take good photos.