Two rival parishes on the Greek island of Chios engage in a most unusual and dangerous Easter tradition that has been taking place quite possibly since the Ottoman era. The churches, which sit on opposite hillsides about 400 meters away from one another, recreate a yearly “Rocket War,” which is exactly what it sounds like.
Until 1889, real cannons were used in this annual performance, which no one really seems to know the origin of. After their cannons were outlawed and confiscated, the two churches in question, Angios Marcos and Panaghia Ereithiani, had to resort to homemade bottle rockets. These fiery weapons are produced throughout the year for the blazing spectacle that draws a high number of tourists.
Tourism may just be the only reason the tradition has survived this long. Most residents are understandably not big fans of up to 80,000 unstable fire sticks screaming through the sky and slamming into the bell towers of their churches while they attempt to attend mass inside. As the rocket builders blow off digits and sometimes lose their lives preparing for the battle, the less-enthusiastic board up buildings and try to protect as much as possible with wire mesh.
By the next morning, ears are ringing, throats are filled with smoke and sulphur, fires have been put out, and burns have been treated, but a winner is never officially decided on. The sign of victory is the most direct hits afflicted on the rival, but every year both congregations declare themselves the winners, and they agree to disagree and settle the score next year.