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VRONDADOS, Greece – It's pure rocket science, and residents of this Greek island village love it.
While church bells ring in Orthodox Easter, thousands of homemade rockets streak across the night sky of the Aegean island of Chios as rival Vrontados parishioners target each other's church towers in a traditional, once-a-year mock war.
Incredibly, severe injuries are rare and dozens of brave souls even attend late-night services inside the churches of Aghios Markos and Panaghia Erithiani, which — together with surrounding homes — are ringed in defensive veils of chicken wire. Police keep a discreet distance as hundreds of people man batteries of wooden rocket launchers, awaiting the air raid siren that marks the start of hostilities.
Although small firework displays are held at churches around the country at midnight services on Easter Saturday — despite official disapproval from Church officials — Vrontados is in a league of its own, drawing spectators from all over Greece and abroad. The custom dates back to the 19th century, when the island was under Turkish occupation, but may have older roots.
Preparations last all year, while on the Saturday morning participants parade their hardware through the village in lorries, honking their horns. Easter is the most important part of the Orthodox religious calendar.