Sunday, 6 January 2008

Cross-throwing


It's a strange sensation, waking up in the morning, opening the paper on the internet and reading the headline: 'Greece struck by a large earthquake'. I slept well and looked around: everything normal. Here there was no earthquake. It wouldn't have been the first time that I woke up from my sleep because of an earthquake. That feels like somebody's rocking your bed. Then I mostly turn oevr and think: it can't be that bad...

But this quake seems to have been somewhat stronger, because many people fled their homes, especially in Athens where in 1999 more than a hundred people died during the last big earthquake (in Turkey thousands of people lost their lives). The quake this morning occured in the south of Greece, at Leonido in the Pelopponesus. It measured 6.5 on the Richter Scale and it was probably strong enough to cause some damage on islands like Karpathos, Kythira and Crete. A couple that fled from their home on Crete looked back and saw an enormous rock coming down the mountain, destroying their house (source: BBC news). That's not a nice way to wake up. You would almost think that it was the Kallikanzaris at work, those little monsters that harass people between Christmas and January 6.

Because today is such a day you can write about each year. In many countries the 6th of January is Three Kings Day, in Greece this day is called Epiphany, the day that Jesus was baptised, or the day that a Light came from Above. It's also said that eastern Christians celebrate Christmas on this day. That will probably all happen in the church, on television a never ending mass went on all morning. In the streets however you see something quite different. Epiphany is also the day of Cross-throwing, the day that the priests go through the villages and cities, followed by everybody who is important in the municipalities. The priest holds a cross and a bunch of basil, which he uses to bless everything he encounters. The procession ends up at the waterside, where boats and water are blessed as well.

This is the most sensational part of the day, because the pappas throws the cross into the water and some stout young men will dive into the freezing water in order to get the cross back. The one who finds the cross will win some money.

Epiphany is also the day when the Kallikanzaris will disappear until the next Christmas. I already wrote about those little creatures (see Boulevard News 18 December 2006) that during the twelve days from Christmas Eve to Epiphany, will tease the people by destroying their food or climbing on somebody's back. Epiphany, the day when Greeks will go in procession through their villages after which they will enjoy a large meal, is finally the end of all those celebration days.

The so-called Three Kings Cake is then already long gone. The Greeks eat this cake, the vasilopita, in which they hide a bean or a coin, on New Years Eve. And although those Three Wise Men have a place at the Greek crib, they have no day of honour. They do participate in some processions, as do the Kallikanzaris that are represented as hairy trolls, apes or angry looking dwarfs. In some Greek areas these processions look like a merry carnival.

In Molyvos it's only the priest followed by the notables dressed up in their Sunday best and spiky heels, that parade through the village. A little sun tries to give the day more feel of celebration. The strong cold has left the air, so the people don't have to suffer from the cold during their village procession and the cross-throwing. Tomorrow there will be another celebration day. It will be the Name Day of Yannis, a name which is given to all too many Greeks. That will be another day of festive meals. Then we will have to wait for the Carnival, after which Lent begins. And then, yes, then summer will start again with Easter.

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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