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Mysterious Origins

Several days before the event, residents carefully board up both churches' windows and doors and wrap wire sheeting around the buildings to protect worshippers. Use of the rockets dates back to the 19th Century On Easter Sunday evening, as mass is said in both churches, the rival parish "gangs" set to work, lighting fireworks and aiming them haphazardly at each other's church bells.

Amid the melee, priests in both churches attempt to continue with mass, although the deafening sounds of fireworks and cheers as the rockets hit their targets often drown out the proceedings entirely. Locals are not sure of the tradition's origins, although it is possibly linked to stories of the island's sailors, who used to battle pirates with cannons installed on their ships and began a custom of firing them at Easter.

In the late 19th Century, when Ottoman occupiers confiscated the cannons over fears they would be used in an uprising, locals resorted to firing rockets instead. Residents also admit it is not the most safety conscious of ceremonies, with several fires in recent years sparked by rockets and even a few deaths.

    "We live as hostages to this tradition," one local lamented.

    "We can't breathe when it takes place, we have to be on standby in case a fire breaks out, because if you are not careful you can even lose your house."