January 1st New Years Day - 'PROTOXRONIA'
New Year's Day, January 1st, is a Bank Holiday in Greece. The day of Saint Basil or Agios Vassilis, also known in Greece as Father Christmas.
The 'Podariko' - First footing. It's considered lucky for a child to be the first person to step over your doorstep on New Year's Day. The child should bring a plant called the 'skylokremmyda' (which looks like an onion with shoots) to leave on the doorstep, then step into the house right foot first. The child is rewarded by the householder with a gift of money for the New Year.
Vassilopita - St Basil's Cake/ New Year's cake.
The vassilopita is a simple sponge cake and is baked in nearly every Greek household at New Year. A coin wrapped in foil (flouri) is placed in the cake before it's baked. The cake is ceremoniously cut by the head of the household and whoever gets the slice containing the 'flouri' is said to have good luck for all of the forthcoming year.
January 6th Epiphany
Theofania or Ta Fota
Epiphany covers the twelve days of Christmas, from Christmas Day through New Year to Epiphany on 6th January.
In the morning or the afternoon of the Eve of 'Ta Fota' (i.e. 5th January), village priests do the rounds of the village homes and sprinkle holy water to bless the houses and all those who live there - called the "ayiasmos" . The Feast of Epiphany, or The Solemn Blessing of the Waters, commemorates Christ's baptism in the River Jordan.
On January 6th waterside ceremonies are held across Greece and Crete at harbours, lakes and rivers. Boats gather to mark the ceremony and a Holy cross is thrown into the sea or river by the priest. Swimmers dive into the chilly waters to retrieve it. It is a great honour and a blessing for the one who retrieves the cross first.
The Tradition of Apokries / Karnavali
In Greece the Carnival started in Ancient times, believed to be as a worship to Dionysos, the God of Wine and Feast. In the Orthodox tradition Apokries is the preparation period before Lent. Apokries means literally keeping away from meat - Apoxh apo kreas - apo-kreas. In Latin the roots of the word Carnival has the same meaning - 'carne' is meat and 'vale' goodbye.
Apokries runs for 3 weeks immediately preceding Lent.
First Week of Apokries
Apokries starts with the opening of the book of the Triodion, the 3 holy sacraments.
Second Week- Meat week
Officially the last week of eating meat until after Lent.
Tsiknopempti - Thursday of meat week.
Tsikna is the smell of burning meat. It was the custom on Tsikonpempti for everyone (including the poor) to charcoal grill meat and to melt fat over it so the smell of 'burning' meat permeated whole villages. It is still the tradition to eat meat on Tsiknopempti, although nowadays it is usual to go to a taverna for the meat feast. You'll find that tavernas everywhere are packed and many have live music too. Another glendi!
Third Week - Cheese Week
This week was also called 'White Week' as people ate mostly dairy products and eggs. Meat was forbidden from Monday of cheese week until after Lent. Many people still adhere to this.
Women never washed their hair during this week as it was said it would turn white if they did.
The final day of Apokries, and it's also the last day until after Easter that weddings are allowed to take place. The Orthodox Church still follows the tradition that no weddings or celebrations can take place during the 40 days of Lent. The old tradition says don't get married on this day; if you do it will be an unhappy marriage! Carnival parades are held on this, the last day of Apokrias.
In 2011 Apokries runs from Sunday 12th February to Sunday 6th March 2011 and ends with the Clean Monday ('Kathara Deftera' or 'Kathari Deftera') on Monday the 7th March 2011.
Clean Monday - 7th March 2011
The day after Tyrofagis Sunday is 'Kathara Deftera' , also called 'Kathari Deftera', or Clean Monday, which falls on 7 March 2011. Clean Monday marks the end of Apokries and is the first day of Lent (Sarakosti). Fasting starts on this day and traditionally no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products are allowed to be eaten for the 49 days leading up to Easter. Clean Monday is a Bank Holiday in Greece and also seen as the start of springtime; it is celebrated by an excursion - enjoy a Lenten picnic or taverna meal, and fly a kite!
During the three weeks of Apokries children, teenagers and adults alike dress up in (often outrageous!) disguises and masks and visit the houses of friends and neighbors who try to guess the identities of the masqueraders. The town and village cafés, tavernas and bars are also visited by masqueraders, usually armed with cans of foam, streamers and confetti.
Weekends, and the final carnival weekend in particular, are the most popular periods for dressing-up and many masked balls, dances and children's parties are held at various venues throughout the three week carnival period.
Apokries culminates with the Grand Carnival Parades, a number of which are held throughout Crete and Greece on the last day of Apokries - Sunday 6th March in 2011.
Carnival Parades are held all over Crete and Greece, and in 2011 the majority will take place on Sunday 6th March 2011.
Groups of friends get together to form teams and make their floats and costumes. They can take months to make and are usually used only once, with originals produced each year. Prizes are sometimes awarded for the best floats and costumes and there can be great (friendly!) rivalry between teams.
The Carnival in Rethymnon has a history of almost one century. The first elements of humorous performances date back to 1915. During this epoch Carnival in Rethymnon was celebrated with romantic dances, and "His Majesty King Carnival" was welcomed with the necessary respect "in an atmosphere of escapades and unrestrained laughter!..."
The custom of hunting the hidden treasure in the beginning of the 90s gave rise to the creation of the "groups", which in 1993 were asked by the Mayor, Mr. Dimitris Archontakis, to take on the organization of the Carnival. Thus the Rethymnian Carnival became the Cretan Carnival.
Year after year Rethymon celebrates now the Carnival like no other town in Greece can do. Parties and masquerades all over the town for three weeks. There are traditional and modern events with music and theatre, street parades and children's events. The "Treasure Hunt" is legend. So is the Grand Parade with many floats and thousands of happy paraders.
March 25th Independence Day
March 25 is both a national (revolution against the Turks) and religious holiday (Annunciation). There is a school flag parade in every town and village and a big armed forces parade in Athens , the capital of Greece .
The Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks in 1453 and the Greeks remained under the Ottoman rule for nearly 400 years. During this time their language, their religion and their sense of identity remained strong.
1821 one more revolution started against the Turks. The people of Greece shouted "Freedom or Death" and they fought the War of Independence for 9 years (1821-1829) until a small part of modern Greece was finally liberated and it was declared an independent nation.
The struggle for the liberation of all the lands inhabited by Greeks continued. Crete, the islands of the Eastern Aegean and Macedonia were added in 1913 and after World War II the Dodecanese islands were also returned to Greece.
April 22nd Orthodox Good Friday
Good Friday is a day of mourning. The drama of the death of Christ is followed with great devoutness. The icon of Christ is taken off the cross, wrapped in linen and put it in the Bier (Epitafios) symbolizing the tomb of Christ.
Late at night the bier is carried through the town or village. A band or choir playing or singing solemn music precedes the procession; they are followed by the cantors, the clergy, women bearing myrrh, the altar boys carrying the liturgical fans, scouts and guides, and the people of the region, who sing the hymns throughout the procession. All along its route, people scatter flowers and perfumes on the epitaphios (bier), holding lighted candles in their hands.
There is something special about this night. The air is full of the scent of flowers, it is still but not heavy, there is a melancholic feeling all over but there is also something different. There is a feeling of stillness, emptiness, calmness and the hearts seem to open to accept the Love of Jesus' sacrifice. This is more likely to experience in a small village but it is obvious also in bigger towns in the more remote and quiet neighborhoods.
April 24th 2011 Orthodox Easter Sunday
On Easter Sunday friends and family gather in homes, eating lamb on the spit, kokoretsi and kalitsounia. Red eggs are cracked again. It is a big feast, sometimes followed by dancing.
In the Orthodox Church the feast of Easter is officially called Pascha, the word which means the Passover. It is the eternal Passover from death to life and from earth to heaven.
Easter (Pascha) begins on the Saturday of Lazarus (the Saturday before Palm Sunday) with children and their teachers being very happy because they will spend two weeks far from school.
The Christian symbolism of Easter was first underlined by the Apostle Paul. When the Christians began to celebrate Easter, they retained some of the features of the Jewish Passover, while at the same time adding others. This can be seen from the paschal lamb and the red eggs.
People gather in church every evening throughout Holy Week, especially on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and on Holy Saturday, the night of the Resurrection.
Holy Thursday is the day for dyeing eggs red. The egg, is a symbol of life, while red is the color of life.
In the evening, after the reading of the 12 Gospel, the girls undertake the decoration of the Bier of Christ (epitaphios) with garlands of flowers, so that in the morning of Good Friday it is ready to receive the image of the body of Christ when He is taken down from the Cross. Flowers of various colours are used but in Crete it is common to use the flowers of the lemon tree.
May 1st - May Day = Working people holiday, flower day
Here in Kamilari we celebrate the 1st of May (the "celebration of flowers", as well known as the more recent European Labor Day) in the village outskirts at the fountain of "Xopigi" or "Xrysopigi". You just get down the village towards the sea. When you reach the crossroads towards Kalamaki or Timbaki, keep on the right towards Timbaki until you reach the fountain "Xrysopigi. It's the place to be, where all people from the village celebrate the 1st May and not only children wear necklaces of flowers. Lamb is baked around an open fire and everybody brings something: a salad, sweets, chairs, music or whatever. Sometimes we even have live music there.
This is our way to welcome the summer and wish each other a nice summer season.
August 6th – Glendi in Kamilari
The 6th of August is the name day of the patron saint of the main church of the village (Metamorphosi tou Christou). The whole village celebrates this "glendi" with friends and family from the neighborhood villages with Cretan live music, wine, dancing and singing until deep in the night.
October 28th - Ochi Day
The Oxi Day is celebrated every year in Greece on October 28th and mostly remembered for general Ioannis Metaxas' strong reply of 'oxi' (meaning "no") to Mussolini's request to allow Italian troops to come into Greece at the beginning of World War II. The result of this stern message was powerful, and in the end, helped to maintain Greece's course of neutrality for generations to come. Nevertheless, the Italians did invade Greece, but were subsequently driven back into Albania.
November 17th – Polytechneio
It is a schools holiday commemorating the students demonstration against stratocracy in Athens in 1973.
In Greece St Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, and 6th December is St. Nicholas Day. In centuries of Greek folklore, Nicholas was seen as "The Lord of the Sea'. In modern Greece, he is still easily among the most recognizable saints and December 6 finds many cities celebrating their patron saint. He is also the patron saint of all of Greece. In the past there used to be present giving on this day, and boats were decorated instead of Christmas trees. The decorated boats are still seen in some places, but have mainly given way to the western tradition of the Christmas tree.
December 25th Christmas Day
- 'XRISTOUYENNA' - in Greek it literally means Christ's birth.
Christmas is the second most important religious holiday in Greece, after Easter. It is usually celebrated with quiet church services and family gatherings. Christmas in Greece is celebrated on December 25th, but presents are usually given to children on January 1st, St. Basil's Day (Agios Vassilis).
On Christmas Eve children go from house to house singing carols, the 'Kalanda'.
The Kalanda, or Christmas Carols, are traditionally sung on Christmas Eve, New Years Eve and the Eve of Epiphany. Groups of children go from house to house singing the appropriate Carol for the day (there are 3 different songs for each 3 days), usually accompanied by metal triangles (trigono). They will ask the house owner 'na to poume?' (literally 'shall we say it?') before starting to sing. This is in case there has been a recent death in the household, as those in mourning do not celebrate Christmas. Afterwards the children are given sweets or coins by the house owner.
Christmas Day is usually spent with family and the traditional Christmas dinner may be roast lamb, pork or turkey, usually without the trimmings! Or fricasse - lamb or pork cooked with egg and lemon sauce. Loaves of 'christopsomo' ('Christ bread' - large sweet loaves) are usually on the Christmas table, along with Christmas biscuits, 'melomakarona' (sweet honey covered biscuits) and kourabiedes (icing sugar-coated biscuits).