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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Cycladic customs during Christmas

Either you are a true believer or not, Christmas is a period of time brimming with symbolisms and images. There is no place you will find on earth where people do not experience, in a way, the energy and vibes flowing from this wonderful celebration of Christianity. What is more interesting through Christmas period though, is these special, unique rituals that small communities retain and cultivate over the years, filled with symbolic gestures, representations of the past and special recipes. The island group of Cyclades comprises exactly such communities where because of their massive touristic activity during the summer months, they are not usually referred for their rich, and weird, Christmas customs.

People of Cyclades experience the “Twelve Days”, beginning for the day of Christmas till the 6th of January, when orthodox feast day of the Epiphany is celebrated. A general superstition is that they consider a good sign if a pigeon lands at their front yard and/or the wind is blowing from the north at the first day of the new year. The opposite happens if the landing bird is a raven.

In Santorini there is a really old custom, since the Byzantine era, that people of Santorini still follow at the first day of the year. After the completion of the service all elementary school students give the “Kalichera” (good hand) to their teacher. This… good hand can be baring money, eggs or chickens! The same applies also to the master of each family who goes to his siblings' houses and treat them the same way. In terms of festive delights, there are the Christmas Santorinian pancakes of Oia, home-village to our favourite Art Maisons. These “pancakes” are similar type of dough with donuts, made in a pan and poured with molasses. This local dessert can’t be found anywhere else, making Oia special even as a winter destination!

The villagers of Naxos, during those twelve days, keep a burning log in their fireplaces, the so-called “Christokoutsouro” (the log of the Christ), whose ashes throw to their plants and pets as blessing. Staying at Naxos, at Glinado village, couples put carefully two pieces of wood in a cross-shaped formation. With this gesture couples believe that they will enhance their bond exactly as the two logs are bonding under the fire.

According to a local legend in Folegandros, home to our favourite Design hotel Anemi, the whole earth stands on a tree. Goblins living underground saw this tree every single day in their effort to conquer the upper part of the earth as well. Thus, those twelve days before the celebration of Epiphany they appear to people in order to mock them and laugh for the upcoming disaster. But, fortunately for the human genus, the revelation of God as a human being in the body of Jesus Christ (the Epiphany), comes to mess with their hideous plans and send them back to their subterranean life, only to find that the tree is again strong and thriving. This development symbolizes the power and magnitude of mother nature, who has so generously blessed this small island.


Last, but not least, one shouldn’t forget that Season’s holidays are mainly a family event and celebration. Families all over the world come together over a dinner table and spend some meaningful time with each other. Paros, a very family-friendly island, that many Greeks love visiting, focuses on just that: togetherness. And Christianity. The small island with the great beaches, that we love to stay during summer holidays - we’re usually residing at Aloni hotel, doesn’t have some special, unique or “weird” Christmas tradition, instead it has many annual bazaars, festive events and celebrations. However the island does something rare on Epiphany, which is considered the end of the Holidays. Typically, all over Greece, the blessing of the waters takes place, by throwing a cross in the water and people swimming to catch it. While this is common everywhere, in Paros all the villages of the island do this separately! It’s a thrilling experience knowing that all the island gathers around their closest church and witnesses or even takes part in this daring Christmas custom!

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