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Festivals in Lesvos

 JANUARY

NEW YEARís DAY IN GREECE is known as PROTOHRONIA,

The 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 honour him.  

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.  

Most of the traditions relating to NEW YEAR take place on New Yearís Eve :

  1. CAROLS (Kalanda)

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.

  1. THE NEW YEAR CAKE (VASILOPITA) WITH THE GOLDEN COIN

The 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!

  1. 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

  1. THE POTHARIKO

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 Day.

  1. 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.
 

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 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 Greece.

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 entire year.

On January 6th is the name day for those named Fotis and Fotoula or Fotia.

click picture to enlarge

 

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