ATHENS, Greece — Inside Greece’s Orthodox churches, candles are a symbol of faith and simplicity, slender and traditionally made of beeswax, and placed in large candleholders filled with sand.
Outside, buyers are looking for a wow-factor to go with Easter gifts: They are sold with dolls, watches and karaoke microphones, or fashioned using dyes and molds in eye-catching designs that include beer bottles, smartphones and action heroes.
High-selling designs this Easter include pandemic-themed candles that resemble COVID-19 test kits, vaccination syringes and even red-colored representations of the ball-and-spike shaped virus itself.
“This year, the COVID-test candle is definitely our best seller,” says Giorgos Souliotis, who runs an online Easter candle store and a seasonal goods store in Athens’ blue collar Korydallos area, one of the city’s most popular outlet for novelty candles.
“People like to make light of something that has affected us all so badly. Last year, the top seller was a vaccination syringe-candle,” he said.
His store carries more than 100 designs, with candles that resemble ice cream cones, sticks of dynamite, wrenches and kebabs. He works with a team of graphic designers, artists and workshops, the more intricate candles taking up to eight hours to make and selling for up to 20 euros ($22).
Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter this Sunday ‒ with a combination of church and family traditions that Americans might relate to as a fusion of Christmas and Thanksgiving. It’s marked with family meals, candlelight church gatherings, fireworks, and gifts to godchildren that must include the Easter candle.
About three-quarters of Greeks have completed their initial vaccination requirements and this year’s Easter celebrations will go ahead with the fewest restrictions in place since the start of the pandemic. That still includes mask and vaccination mandates at churches and many other shared indoor areas but stores and markets selling Easter goods are open.
“We went through two Easters selling goods through our e-shop, but this year it’s different,” Souliotis said. “People like to come into the store. Hold the candles and just talk to us ‒ It’s much better now.”