The Independent Parent: When should we take our two small boys to Greece to give them an Easter with a difference?

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The Independent Travel

Q. We want to go to Greece for Easter to join in the festivities and believe that they celebrate it at a different time. When/where should we go to make sure we all have fun? We have two boys, aged eight and six.

Emma Peterson, Birmingham

A. For Greeks, Easter is the most important festival of the year, and it is a great time to experience the generosity and friendliness of the Greek people.

As you say, the Greek Orthodox Church does not always celebrate Easter, known locally as "Pascha" or Passover, on the same day as Catholic and Protestant countries, as it calculates the dates using the Julian Calendar, rather than the Gregorian Calendar. However, this year the result happens to be the same, with Easter Sunday falling on 11 April.

Easter customs vary from island to island and from village to village. Typically, on Holy Thursday, Greek women dye hard-boiled eggs red to symbolise the blood of Christ. Vespers on Good Friday witnesses a funeral procession of priests and altar boys carrying the bier (a frame for carrying the dead) of Christ covered in flowers around the town, along with crosses and candles. You can join in by scattering flowers and perfume.

The festivities really get going on Easter Saturday. Attend a late-night church service so you can be part of the chain as candles are lit throughout the congregation at midnight, as bells are rung and fireworks let off to celebrate the resurrection.

After church, gather at a bonfire outside to give the traditional greeting, "Christos Anesti" ("Christ is risen"), to which the response is, "Alithos Anesti" ("He is truly risen"). After morning church services, Sunday sees a big, fat, Greek open-air feast of spit-roast lamb, Easter biscuits, Easter bread and those dyed hard-boiled eggs, washed down with red wine or retsina.

Visitors are often invited to the party; if this happens to you, be prepared to dance.

So where are the best places to join the celebrations? The island of Kithira, where bonfires and torches are lit all around the island, including around its huge castle, to illuminate the Good Friday procession; Antiparos, where fireworks are let off from the boats in the harbour as they toot their horns at midnight on Easter Sunday; and the more popular destinations of Crete and Rhodes.

Avoid large urban centres, such as Athens and Thessaloniki, where Easter is no longer celebrated in such a traditional style.

The main season of charter flights to Greece does not begin until May, but there are some exceptions. Direct Greece (0870 516 8683; www.direct-holidays.co.uk) has a range of late deals on package holidays to Rhodes leaving from Gatwick or Manchester on Wednesday, 7 April.

A week's self-catering at the four-bedroom Villa Paraschos in Lindos, for example, costs £1,206 based on two adults and two children sharing, including return flights from Manchester.

While on Rhodes, introduce your children to ancient Greece with a picnic at Rodini Park, south of Rhodes town, home to the rare Rhodian deer, and to the remains of an ancient necropolis and the Tomb of Ptolemy. Both are suitably gruesome for two small boys.

On Crete, a week's self-catering in a one-bedroom apartment at the Blue Aegean Aparthotel with Cosmos (0870 443 1823; www.cosmos-holidays.co.uk) would cost your family £1,308, departing from Gatwick on 6 April.

The resort has golden sands sloping gently into shallow waters making it ideal for children. Your boys will also love Crete's greatest cultural attraction; the Minoan palace at Knossos, legendary site of the labyrinth that was home to the Minotaur.

For those looking to put together their own package, Avro (0870 458 2847; www.avro.co.uk) operates flights from various UK airports to Rhodes and Crete.

For general information on Greek Easter, call the Greek National Tourism Organisation on 020-7495 9300, or visit its website, www.gnto.co.uk. Other useful sources include: www.rhodes-direct.co.uk; www.sfakia-crete.com; and www.gogreece.com.

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