WTF Fun Fact 12928 – The Church Rocket War

Two churches in Vrontados, Greece have a very unconventional way of marking the Easter holiday. The churches fire rockets at one another.

They used to use cannons, but those were outlawed.

The church rocket war

We know churches “compete” for parishioners in some sense, but we didn’t realize how hostile things could get.

On the Greek island of Chios, two rival churches have been using the Easter holiday to continue to carry out a tradition that’s been going on for as many as 400 years. According to Atlas Obscura (cited below): “The churches, which sit on opposite hillsides about 400 meters away from one another, recreate a yearly ‘Rocket War’ (or Rouketopolemos) 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.”

All in good fun (or in the name of tourism)

The churches aren’t out to literally destroy one another (at least not anymore). But that doesn’t mean there isn’t real damage.

For starters, building homemade rockets isn’t a safe hobby. People lose digits and more during these events (not unlike in the US during the 4th of July, when injury rates spike from amateurs using explosives).

Windows, signs, and outdoor furniture can be another casualty if people nearby don’t board things up. And we imagine that feels pretty inconvenient, especially around such an important holiday in the church calendar.

Up to 80,000 fire sticks are launched by both churches’ congregations, and people have indeed lost their lives trying to blow off pieces of the rival church’s bell tower. It’s probably not a very peaceful Easter service for those who attend inside either.

But because it brings tourists to the island, the tradition continues.

Atlas Obscura notes that “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.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Chios Rocket War” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 12607 – The Lenten Origins of Pretzels

While we tend to associate pretzels with Germany, they’re likely Italian in origin. And even though they’re a typical Oktoberfest food these days, they were once closely associated with Easter and, more specifically, Lent.

It appears the humble pretzel originated in Aosta, Italy in 610 AD with a young monk who decided to get creative with the unleavened bread he was preparing for Lent. He rolled and twisted the dough in the shape of arms crossed in prayer. (In those days, people prayed with their arms crossed over their chests and not with their hands in the prayer position we do today.)

Source: Wikipedia

Originally, the pretzels or “pretiola” were handed out to children to get them to say their prayers, and the word pretiola is Latin for “little reward.” Some historians also believe that the three holes in the pretzel are meant to represent the Holy Trinity.

It’s unclear how pretzels made their way out of the monastery to become a larger European tradition, but by 1440, pretzels became a popular Good Friday food in Germany, along with eggs, which were nestled in the pretzels’ holes. The evidence is scarce, but it has long been said that Germans used to hide pretzels along with eggs on Easter morning. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Why We Eat Pretzels On Easter” — Mashed