Does she love me, Santa, or does she love me not?

Does she love me, Santa, or does she love me not?

Nicosia resident Sergios Christou said that 20 years ago Cypriots would put gifts under the Christmas Tree on January 1st.

“It seems people have now been Europeanised and they instead gather and exchange gifts on Christmas Day”, Christou said.

“For a while we did gifts on both Christmas and New Year’s but that got to be too much. I actually prefer giving gifts on Christmas. It gives the kids more time to enjoy their presents over the holiday period”.

Despite the change in date, Christou said that many of the traditions, like putting biscuits and milk out the night before Santa comes to vist, still exist, they just now come a week earlier. And Ayios Vassilis, the Saint celebrated on January 1st has become synonymous with Santa Claus.

“The other day my six-year-old granddaughter suggested that Santa might be happier if we instead put out beer for him this year”.

Christou said that a common village tradition is to cross a dry leaf by a fireplace and then, after making a wish to Ayios Vassilis, toss it into the fire.

“Before tossing the dry leaf into the flames, you would say “Ayie Vassili Vasilia deixe tze fanerose an me agapa o…” (Ayie Vassili King, show and illuminate if I am loved by…) and then you name whoever’s love you are hoping for.

“If the leaf jumped up after you dropped it in the fire, then that meant the person loves you. If not, you got depressed and tried again”.

Greece celebrates Epiphany with traditional ‘blessing of the waters’ ceremonies

Greece celebrated the religious holiday of Epiphany on Saturday with the traditional “blessing of the waters” ceremony at the country’s countless ports, harbours, lakes and reservoirs, with the nation’s political leadership also on hand at Church masses and at the water’s side.

The most prominent service was again celebrated at the port of Piraeus’ Metropolitan Cathedral and seafront, with Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Christodoulos officiating at the service, attended by President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias, Defence Minister Evangelos Meimarakis, who represented the Government, main opposition PASOK leader George Papandreou, former premier Costas Simitis and dozens of other government officials, MPs and local government office-holders. Most political leaders on hand expressed their best wishes for 2007.

On his part, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis attended Epiphany services near his home in the east Attica coastal town of Rafina, where he expressed his best seasons for the New Year, while emphasising the need for close ties between parents and children.

His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos officiated at a similar service in Constantinople [today’s Istanbul], the venerable Patriarchate’s seat.

Epiphany celebrations in Greece and Cyprus

Epiphany is a day full of symbolisms and traditions, during which our Church celebrates Jesus’ baptism in Jordan River by John the Baptist.

According to our popular tradition this is the day that the Elves, who have caused much discomfort to people during the holidays, leave the Earth. The celebration of this day has a particular protocol. In Athens, Mayor Bakoyannis will be present at the ceremony for the benediction of waters which will take place on Thursday at 10.30 in Dexameni in Kolonaki. After that, at 11.30, the Mayor will attend the ceremony taking place at the swimming pool of the National Gymnastics Club.

The feast of Epiphany is one of the oldest celebrations of the Christian Church. It was established in the 2nd century and it refers to the revelation of the Holy Trinity during Christ’s baptism. That is when the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove and sat on Jesus, while from above the voice of God was indicating Him as His beloved Son and His Chosen on Earth. It was established to be celebrated on January 6th, probably in order to coincide with the idolatrous celebrations of the early Christian years and to replace them.

During the first two centuries, the Christians also celebrated the Birth of Christ on the same day, but since the mid 4th century, when Pope Julius set December 25th as Christmas day, the feast of Epiphany has been celebrated separately. The Orthodox Church performs on this day the benediction of waters in the sea, in lakes, in rivers, even in water tanks. The name “Illuminations” (“Fota” in Greek), which we commonly use, has been established because on the day before the Epiphany the Church used to baptize the catechumen.

For all Greeks this day is connected with the casting of the Cross in the sea and with the effort of the bold ones to retrieve it from the – frozen this time of year – waters. The joy of the person who manages to get to the Cross first is a great one and the blessings of the priest accompany him for the whole year. On the day before the Epiphany, the neighborhood priest passes by the houses of his cogeneration in order to perform the customary blessing. It is the day that … the Elves fear the most – if we want to turn from our religious tradition to our folk one.

For more than two weeks the Elves are on Earth and they bother people with the capers they are pulling. During all these days they try to hurt people, but they do not succeed – clumsy as they are. The priest’s appearance in the houses on Epiphany day gives them the… finishing stroke and they disappear for once more in the bowels of the Earth. This is how the circle of tradition restarts until next Christmas when they will climb up again…

Epiphany in Greece > The Kalikantzaroi

Epiphany in Greece is known as Theofania or Fota. The first sanctification of the Epiphany (The Enlightenment) takes place in church on the eve of the holiday. Afterwards, the priest goes from house to house holding a cross and a basil branch. As he walks through each house, he uses the basil to sprinkle (bless) all the areas of the home.

An old custom in Crete, which is almost forgotten today, was the preparation of the fotokoliva (boiled wheat with peas) on the eve of Epiphany. The fotokoliva was eaten by the people, but they also fed it to their livestock, which was believed to insure good health and fortune in the homes.

The big sanctification takes place the following day, January 6, the day of the Epiphany.

A long procession is formed and follows whatever road that leads to a body of water – the sea, a river or even a reservoir. Up in front of the procession are the cherub icons, followed by the priests dressed in their best holiday splendor, then the VIPs, followed by all the people. In the bigger cities, the procession becomes more elaborate with the addition of music and military contingents.

At the end of the sanctification ceremony a priest throws a cross into the water, thus blessing the waters. Then, those who dare – mostly the younger people of the village – jump in the usually icy water and compete in retrieving the cross. The one who brings the cross up to the surface will enjoy good luck and health for the entire year.

KALIKANTZAROI, THE CHRISTMAS SPRITES > Kalikantzaroi, or the Christmas Sprites, are small blackish and hairy creatures, with long arms and tail, who reside in the bowels of the earth. With a big saw, they compete to cut down the huge wooden stake which holds the earth in place. But the column is very thick and the sawing seems to go on forever.

Right before Christmas, however, they almost accomplish their mission and the column seems ready to fall. Overjoyed by their almost successful effort, but also fearful that the earth will topple over on their heads, they rush to the top to bother and annoy the people.

Thousands of these creatures come up to the surface from every hole or crack they can find. However, they are very much afraid of the light, so they hide during the day. But at night – that’s when they strike! As soon as it’s dark, they scramble from their hiding places to taunt and menace people. Because they are small, some even very tiny, they can get into the homes through chimneys, keyholes, even from the little cracks on windows and doors.

They enjoy lollygagging around in places like oil vats, frying pans, oily pots and dishes, and they really get a kick out of soiling food with their filthy fingernails and leaving their excrement all over the place. About the only good thing that can be said about these nasty pests is that they never steal anything – oh, but what a mess!

Their name comes from the adjective, kalos, meaning good, and kantharos, the word for beetle. The beginning of the myth regarding the Christmastide Sprites can be found in ancient times. The people of that time believed that when the souls in Hades found the door open they would come up to our world and make the rounds among people without any restrictions.

Much later the Byzantines celebrated with music, song and masquerading. Because the people hid their faces they were shameless and behaved boldly. They would bother people on the street, and go into the homes uninvited, pestering the people by continuously asking for sausages and sweets. The homeowners would slam the doors and shut the windows, but the persistent masqueraders would always find a point of entry – like coming down the chimney.

All this activity would occur during the 12 days of Christmas and on the Epiphany. Then, after the big sanctification all would become calm again as the people settled back down into their normal routine.

Today, the Kalikantzaroi disappear during the celebration of the lights, after the waters are blessed by the priests. As those pesky little creatures depart, you can hear them saying: “Leave we shall, because the crazy priest has arrived with his incense burner and his holy water sprinkler . . .”

Greek Carols for Christmas, New Year and Epiphany

A very old custom which remains today practically unchanged is Christmas Carols, which is called Kalanda [or Calanda] in Greek. Children, in groups of two or more, still make the rounds of houses singing carols, usually accompanied by the triangle or guitars, accordions or harmonicas.

The children go from house to house, knock on doors and ask: “shall we sing them?” If the homeowner’s answer is yes, the kids sing their favourite carols for several minutes before finishing up with the wish, “And for the next year, many happy returns”. Years ago the homeowners offered the children holiday sweets and pastries, but today they usually give them some money.

The carols are sung on the eves of Christmas, New Year and Epiphany, and they are different for each holiday.

The Greek word Calanda stems from the Latin, calenda, which translates as “the beginning of the month”. It is believed that the history of caroling goes deep into the past and connects with ancient Greece. In fact, they have even found carols written in those distant past days which are similar to the ones sung today. In ancient times the word for carols was Eiresioni, and children of that era held an effigy of a ship which depicted the arrival of the ancient god Dionysos. Other times they held an olive or laurel branch decorated with red and white threads, on which they would tie the offerings of the homeowners.

This Eiresioni song from the Homeric period can still be heard today – with small changes – in the carols of Thrace perfecture in Greece >

In this house we came of the rich-landlord

May its doors open for the wealth to roll in

The wealth and happiness and desired peace should enter

And may its clay jugs fill with honey, wine and oil

And the kneading tub with rising dough.

EPIPHANY CAROLS >
Today is the lights and the enlightment
The happiness is big and the sanctification
Down the Jordan River
Sits our Lady the Blessed Virgin Mary
She carries an organ, a candle she holds
And pleads with St. John.
St. John lord and Baptist
Baptize this divine child of mine
I shall ascend to the heavens
To gather roses and incense
Good day, good day
Good day to you master and the missus.

Greece and Cyprus > New Year Traditions

January 1st is an important date in both Greece and Cyprus because it is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also Saint Basil’s Day.

Saint Basil the Great, equivalent to Santa Claus, was one the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He is remembered for his kindness and generosity to the poor. He is thought to have died on this date so this is how they honor him. New Year is perhaps even more festive and important than Christmas as it is the main day for gift-giving and for stories of Saint Basil’s kindness to children and the stories of how he would come in the night and leave gifts for the children in their shoes.

Greeks have a christian name that is the name of a religious figure or a Saint. On the religious calendar each day has a different feast and people celebrate their name-day accordingly. January 1st is Saint Basil’s Day which is the celebration day for those named Vassilios and Vassiliki. On name-days and Saint Basil’s day people visit their friends and relatives and exchange gifts, not just for those whose name-day it was but also for those who’s name day it isn’t. On these visits they have a big feast of food, drinks and music.

There are many special dishes that are prepared at New Year but the most important dish is Vassilopitta or Saint Basil’s cake, inside the cake is placed a silver or gold coin, meant for good-luck throughout the year for the lucky person who finds it into his/her piece of Vassilopitta.

Greek New Year’s Carols

Here are the lyrics to the Greek New Year’s Carols >

In Greek > 

Ayios Vasilis erhete
Ke den mas katadehete
Apo, apo tin Kessaria.
Si sa arhon, si sa arhondissa Kiria!
Vastaei penna ke harti
Zaharokandio zimoti
Harti, harti ke kalamari
Des kai eme, des kai eme, to pallikari!

To kalamari egrafe
Ti mira tou tin elege
Ke to, ke to harti milouse
To hriso, to hriso mas kariofili!

Arhiminia ki arhihronia
Psili mou dendrolivania,
Ke arhi, ke arhi kalos mas hronos.
Eklisia, eklisia, me t’ ayio throno!

Arhi pou vgike o Hristos
Ayios ke Pnevmatikos,
Sti gi, gi na perpatisi
Ke na mas, ke na mas kalokardisi!

In English >

Saint Basil comes,
And does not acknowledge us
From Caesarea.
You are, you are the mistress of the house!

He holds a pen and paper
And leavened sweets
Paper, paper and ink.
Look at me, look at me, the brave one!

The ink wrote
And told fortunes,
And the, and the paper spoke.
Our golden, our golden clove!

It is the first day of the month and the year,
My tall rosemary,
And from, and from the beginning a good year for us.
The church, the church with the holy throne!

Christ came in the beginning,
Holy and Spiritual;
On earth, on earth he walked
To give us, to give us good cheer!

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