Festivals in Lesvos
NEW YEARís DAY IN GREECE is known as PROTOHRONIA,
1st of January is an important date in Greece because it
is not only the first day of the New Year but it is also
St. Basil's Day. (Ayios Vasilis). He was one the
forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church remembered
for his kindness and generosity to the poor. He is
thought to have died on this date so this is how we
The children impatiently await the New Year (Protohronia)
because that's when St. Basil (Ayios Vasilis) delivers
their gifts. In the Greek tradition it is the custom to
exchange gifts on the New Year instead of Christmas. The
presents are delivered by Saint Basil (Agios Vasilis).
Father Christmas is a western import.
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. On January 1st
(St Basil's Day) is the day for those named Vassilios
and Vassiliki. On these days it is customary for people
to visit their celebrating friends and relatives to
offer gifts and in return they will be treated to offers
of sweets and drinks and if the hosts are very generous
they have a big feast of food, drinks and music.
the traditions relating to NEW YEAR take place on New
Yearís Eve :
A very old custom which remains today practically
unchanged is the Greek carols, which is called calanda
in Greek. Children, in groups of two or more, still make
the rounds of houses and shops singing carols, usually
accompanied by the triangle or guitars, accordions or
harmonicas. They go from door to door and ask: "shall we
say them?" If the homeowner's answer is yes, the kids
sing the 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 NEW YEAR CAKE (VASILOPITA) WITH THE GOLDEN COIN
cutting of the Vasilopitta is one of the few primordial
customs still surviving. In the Kronia (the celebration
of the god Kronos, who was worshiped in Ancient Greece)
and the Saturnalia of Rome, sweets and cakes would be
prepared with a coin inside. The one who received the
piece with the coin would be the lucky one of the group
. . .
The Orthodox Church tradition continued this custom with
the New Year cake but with a different interpretation.
The story goes that when St. Basil was the Bishop of
Kapadocia, the state was ruled by a ruthless Governor
who demanded high taxes. St Basil asked all the people
to offer a piece of jewellery each so the can apiece the
Governor. By some divine intervention in the end it was
not necessary to pay the taxes to the Governor so we
wanted to return the jewels to their rightful owners but
he didnít know who owned each piece of jewellery. This
is when it is told the miracle occurred. He baked a cake
(pitta) and inside he placed all the jewels. When pieces
of the cake were given out, everyone had their own
jewellery in the piece of cake they were given.
Now on New Year's Eve everyone gathers around waiting
for the vasilopita to be cut as the New Year rolls in.
When the time comes the father, in a solemn ceremony,
starts to cut the cake. After the Vasilopitta is
crossed three times, the first piece is cut for Christ,
the second for his mother the Panagia, the third for St.
Basil's, then for the house, then for the father and
then everyone in hierarchical order in the household and
everyone else present. Often pieces will be cut for dear
family people who are away or even for the animals of
the household. The one who gets the piece with the coin
will be the lucky one of the year!
CARD PLAYING ON NEW YEAR'S DAY
Because Greeks consider the New Year lucky, it is the
custom to participate in games of chance at home such as
cards and dice while waiting for the year to change. The
betting sums are usually kept low, so as to offer a
friendly diversion without upsetting the losers. Thatís
not to say that the custom is not carried to excess with
more public forms of gambling e.g., in coffeehouses,
clubhouses, casinos etc
Many people pay particular mind to the good/bad omen
regarding who will first enter their home in the New
Year. On New Year's Eve they will ask a close friend or
relative, whom they consider lucky, to be the first to
come into their house the following day. Often, a child
is preferred for this special practice because children
are considered innocent and their hearts free of malice
and envy. Sometimes for those that they donít want to
risk a calamitous New Year they do their own pothariko
and they make sure not to have visitors on New Yearís
EVENING ENTERTAINMENT ON NEW YEAR'S EVE
During the entire holiday period attendance in tavernas,
bars and clubs is much higher as people go out at night
to celebrate. On New Year's Eve especially, everyone is
more exuberant and joyful so such places get even
busier. The fun and excitement continues until sunrise.
Sometimes even displays of fireworks are put on to
heighten the excitement.
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
the cross and a basil bunch. As he walks through each
house, he uses the basil to sprinkle (bless) all the
areas of the home. The big sanctification takes place
the following day, January 6, the day of the Epiphany in
We celebrate the Epiphany at Skala Polichnitos.
At about 10 a.m. at the end of the church service at St.
Johnís a long procession is formed that heads for the
harbour. Up in front of the procession are the cherub
icons, followed by the priests dressed in their best
holiday splendour, then the local VIPs, followed by all
the people. Not forgetting the military band from the
Polichnitos base that leads the proceedings.
At the end of the sanctification ceremony the priest
throws the cross (usually wooden so it can float into
the water, thus blessing the waters. At that point,
those who dare - mostly the younger people of the
village - jump in the cold 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
On January 6th is the name day for those
named Fotis and Fotoula or Fotia.