Night of the Balloons – Peloponnese, Leonidio
Orthodox Easter, Good Saturday
During Eastertime in Leonidio devoutness and excitement go hand in hand, thanks to the spectacular custom of the balloons that is more than one century old. Although its origin is unknown, it is believed that the custom is a revival of a similar one that the seamen of the area had seen practiced in some Asian country.
It all boils down to the competition among the five parishes of the village. For six weeks until Easter, after every Friday evening’s service, the kids raise money to make as many balloons as possible. It is estimated that every Easter Saturday night five to six hundred balloons fill the sky with their sparkling light, and that is about one balloon per house.
On the night of Easter Saturday, locals and visitors alike gathered in the central square of the village wait impatiently for the big moment. It is midnight, andwhen “Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen) is heard the men of the village set afire the oil-and-petroleum-soaked pieces of cloth at the bottom of each balloon. Amid fireworks in the sky, the balloons take off for a lazy flight of 30 to 40 minutes. Tradition has it that, no matter what the weather conditions are, calmness takes over and only a gentle western wind blows, strong just enough to allow the balloons to reach for the stars.