Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Easter hot air lanterns

A weird and wonderful Easter tradition that is only found in one area of Greece (my dad's hometown, as it happens) is the sending up of hot air lanterns. This happens on Saturday night during the church service and all through Easter Sunday and Easter Monday in the town of Leonidio. The lanterns are made of paper tissue in different colours, they have a circular bottom and conical top, and are man-sized. The bottom is kept together by copper wires in the shape of a cross. A rag is soaked in gas and fixed in the centre of the cross, then it is lit and the lantern held in place while it fills with hot air. Once it's ready, it starts flying up and up and up!

It's a spectacular sight against the night sky, especially as there are hundreds of lanterns leaving each of the town's five churches at precisely the same moment, just as the priest in each church announces that "Christ has risen". You can see what it looks and sounds like in the next video, but be warned - there are fireworks, church bells and bangers going off, so it's very loud. You may want to turn down the sound on your PC before you click play.

There are more lanterns being sent up throughout Easter Sunday. You always see people looking up when a lantern goes past - a good idea if you are to avoid the risk of catching fire, as sometimes they fall back down on top of houses or in woodland. Children in particular are fascinated by lanterns and as soon as they're old enough to ride a bike they are on lantern alert. The moment there's a lantern coming down, there are groups of kids rushing to the spot where it falls. The first one to get there can claim the lantern as his/her own, and can take it home to patch it up and send it back up. Sometimes lanterns get patched up again and again.

This is a lantern that my cousin rescued, being sent up for the third or fouth time, judging by the number of patch jobs.

While looking for videos showing the hot air lanterns, I found this next one. It's professionally made and a little longer (just under 10 mins), but if you can spare the time, it shows the whole of the Easter celebrations, starting with the decoration of the Epitaphios on Good Friday and finishing with the hot air lanterns on Sunday evening. My favourite bit is around the 8:25 mark, where you see three young children (too young to chase after the lanterns themselves) discussing how many of them burnt the night before. It's exactly what we were like as kids, and just comes to show that things don't change *that* much from generation to generation!

There are plenty more photos of the hot air lanterns on Flickr. Have a look here for some spectacular ones (not taken by me).

This is officially my last Easter post for this year. Hope you've enjoyed it :-)


Shionge said...

So cool :) I'm fascinated and I think some part of China do have this hot air lanterns quite similar to this.

Per Stromsjo said...

Sounds like a delightful form of recycling. Salvaging, patching and re-launching those lanterns. But I can certainly understand if the fire authorities are less than amused.

Mediterranean kiwi said...

i didnt know about this one, but it is a wonderful custom!

Tinsie said...

@ Shionge: They do?!! Wow! Isn't it strange how the same tradition appears in such separate parts of the world?

@ Per Stromsjo: They're not too worried, I don't think. They probably send their own lanterns up in their back yard. Hehe.

@ Mediterranean Kiwi: No? I thought you might have seen it on TV. It sometimes makes the news, along with the rockets in Chios.

Karen said...

I think there is a reason you can only find this in one town--all the rest have burned down! It looks like great fun, but the mom in me was a little horrified at that video!

Tinsie said...

Hahaha! Actually the lanterns have caused very little damage over the years. The bangers are a lot more dangerous, most of them are home made and very potent and have a tendency to go off prematurely.

I'm sure you don't want to know the gory details, so I'll say no more :-)

palmtreefanatic said...

thats is awesome Tinsie! thanks for sharing this!

Tinsie said...

You are very welcome :-)