Make your own free website on Tripod.com

FESTIVALS & TRADITIONS OF KEFALONIA

 

Folklore as we know it today changes from one period in time to another often dependent on historical events, some ruling invaders or 'landlords' often left more of a mark than others. Because of the long occupation of the Venetians these more than most influenced more than any other, with perhaps a little addition here and there of the British rule. Because of the connection with the other Ionian islands the dialect and customs created in these region have been called 'Eptanesian traditions'. The seven island traditions. Therefore you may find customs, dialect, songs, religious festivities, art and literature not dissimilar to other neighbouring islands. For instance the saying below can be found with slight alterations on most if not all the Ionian islands.

 

"I’m leaving with a fond farewell
my poor Kefalonia ( Ithaki - Zakynthos - Corfu, etc.)
taking with me only my body
since my mind is left behind".

 

CHRISTMAS

 

This is the time of year which is now becoming as popular with the Greeks as with Europeans alike. Children and local groups and bands sing and play carols. Decorations illuminated not only the houses but also the towns and villages each with their own nativity scene and Christmas tree. The wild strawberry trees and bushes 'Arbutus undo' are laden with bright red fruit. This sweet crimson berry is today used for making jam and liquor. It is also the custom of the Kefalonians to decorate their homes with branches of the arbutus and myrtle trees at Christmas time. In the home housewives bake the 'Christmas bread', decorated with almonds and walnuts in the sign of the cross. This special bread is now baked and sold commercially or can be bought from the local baker. The 'Christopsomo' Christ's bread, was traditionally, years ago held over the embers of the fire by the head of the family who would then trickle olive oil over the bread saying "Christ is born the light grows stronger". Each member of the family would be given a piece and in turn would distribute what was left to the family's animals, as a memento and contribution for the rest the donkey once provided for Mary on her journey to Bethlehem and the warmth the sheep, goats cows and other animals gave to Christ at his birth in and around the stable.

 

NEW YEAR

 

In the major towns especially Argostoli and Lixouri the youngster bid farewell to the old year by playing practical jokes on each other some mostly spraying each other with perfume, whilst in some areas it's flour. Local bands play and choirs continue to sing traditional songs One old custom that dates back to antiquity and is still upheld today, everyone takes a stroll out into the countryside on 31st December to dig up an 'askinokara'  referred to as the 'St Basil's (Father Christmas) plant'  this is commonly known as the sea squill. A bulbous plant that looks similar to a large onion, its leaves grow large and green. This plant is hung over the front door of the house to bring good luck, health and protection to the home and its occupants during the forthcoming New Year. Another common custom and a good excuse for the children not to get told off is the breaking of  a pomegranate by smashing it on to the ground in front of the main door of the house thus exposing the seeds. It was and still is believed that the amount of seeds visible on the ground are the amount of wishes that will be granted. New Years Day. The feast of Saint Basil and the New year cake 'Vassilopita' is sliced (an old Byzantine custom) the person who finds a coin, which has been placed inside, is traditionally the New Year's lucky person.

 

EPIPHANY 6th JANUARY

 

On the Eve of Epiphany, known as 'the day of the Holy Water' This is when the priest of the village goes into his parish consecrating and blessing all his parishioners and their homes. For this he uses an 'ayiastoura' a twig or piece of wood in the shape of a cone covered with rosemary and narcissi and often a carnation and a container of the blessed Holy Water. Superstition and not religion suggests that in this way it is hoped that the 'naughty elves' as they are known throughout Greece will then disappear. These mischievous lost little souls (thought to be those of past infants who were not baptised) known on Kefalonia as 'pagana' have been on earth for 12 days since Christmas Night. They come down the chimney's of the houses and cause havoc any food that has mysteriously disappeared over the festivities had, of course been devoured by this devilish little mites and have to be banished back the underworld.

This is also the time when the main entrance to all of the churches is decorated with an arch combined with myrtle, which is the symbol of eternal love, peace and honour, palm leaves which symbolises the victory of Christ over death. On this day after the morning service the Bishop throws a cross attached by cord into the sea, (symbolic of the Baptism of Christ) on the harbour beside the Thrapano Bridge, and opposite the Church of Sissiotissa in Argostoli, and young men dive into the cold waters to retrieve it.

 

CARNIVAL TIME

 

The Carnival in Kefalonian has a long and rich tradition and is a very special celebration for everyone. Young and old enjoy these mardi-gras with songs, dance and of course costumes and masks, these of course used to resemble the Venetian styles, but of course into days modern world you have the usual monsters and presidents of the United States! People wander from taverna to café bars and the main streets at night playing practical jokes on those who prefer a more quieter time. On the last day of the Carnival, a parade takes place with a competition for the best costume and the most impressive float presentation. The dancers’ costumes are weird and wonderful. The men wear white ‘skirts’, white gloves and a tall paper headdress with pretty little bells on. There are silk ribbons on their skirts and they hang heavy gold jewellery around their necks, chains and brooches. Their 'female partners' are usually young boys or very short men wearing disguises. Everyone of course wears masks. Carnival dances have been passed down through the generations and include ancient quadrilles, polkas and old Greek folk dances. It is amusing to watch the 'babaoulia', which are comic turns performed by young people in costumes.

 

CLEAN MONDAY

 

The fortieth day before Easter, Clean Monday or Shrove Monday and lent begins, this day is spent in the country with an ample supply of food and wine necessary for the high spirits and included in these traditions is the flying of kites.

 

THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE VIRGIN MARY

25th MARCH

 

On all religious festivals and feast days, special bread is baked and richly decorated with flowers is brought to the church to be blessed. On 'the day of the Annunciation', the loaves are covered in fragrant spring flowers, mainly freesias, violets and stock. As they leave church, everyone is given a little bunch of flowers to take home with them.

 

Easter

 

On Palm Sunday churches which have painstakingly been decorated by the ladies of the parish with sweet-smelling leaves and petals. Small crosses of palm are shaped and bound together by locals, and are a symbol of  triumph over death, with branches of olive the peace plant. On Good Friday it is moving to join in the procession which follows the 'Epitaphion' this represent where Christ laid before his entombment, it is carried in a candle lit procession around the villages. Saturday morning, bay leaves are scattered over the church floor, symbolizing the glory and victory of Christ over death. At midnight, the Resurrection is celebrated with fireworks and bangers set alight. It is customary for everyone to take their candle home with them, doing their best not to let it go out on the way, bringing home the Resurrection light, a good blessing for the coming year.

Easter 'paska' is the most celebrated and important festival for Greeks. Celebrated after lent with the roasting of lambs and goats the eating of the red-dyed eggs, that have been prepared with special seaweed that when boiled turns red and represents the blood of Christ in a lot of areas small delicate flowers and leaves are placed next to the eggs in a muslin before being boil leaving an intricate design on the shell. Easter bread 'lambropsomo', is bake normally on Maundy Thursday and is decorated with an egg in the centre.

 

MAY DAY

 

This day also known as labour day, is celebrated with flowers and home made multicoloured wreaths hanging on the outside of houses and flowers placed on the windscreens of cars. This ancient custom of the celebration of spring is world wide but on Kefalonia according to tradition, a garlic is placed into the flowers to protect the house from bad luck and ward off ill fortune and the evil eye.

 

ASCENSION DAY

 

Celebrated forty days after Easter and is usually during May. Services are held all over the island with picnics or barbecues and dancing after the evening services. Visits to churches and graveyards or silent pray all in remembrance of family and friends who have departed.

 

15th AUGUST 'PANAYIA'

 

All churches named after the Virgin Mary have celebrations. In the church of  Panayia of Langouvartha the Madonna lilies bloom again from dried stems these flowers and this miracle has always been a symbol of purity and associated with the Virgin Mary. Celebrations are held all over Kefalonia and in fact is the reason that St Yerasimos celebrations are held over a longer period of time. Simply because Panayia clashes with the death of the Saint on the 15th. Albeit it is celebrated on the 16th of August.

 

SAINT YERASIMOS 16th AUGUST

 

Saint Yerasimos is the patron saint of Kefalonia, he lived in the 16th century. Pilgrims come from all over the worked to celebrate the anniversary of his death at the monastery he helm restore in the Omala Valley. An all night vigil takes place on the night of the 15th with a procession and parade which includes government officials and visiting dignitaries. This runs from the monastery along the avenue of trees to one magnificent plane tree on the site of the holy well.  The Saint personally is said to have built this well and planted the plane tree beside it. It is customary for people to take a leaf from the tree in remembrance of their saint.

 

CELEBRATION OF THE HOLY CROSS

 

The 14th September is the day in all churches around the island the Cross with be richly decorated with basil. 'Basilico' means 'belonging to the king' after the services all the parishioners are given a bunch of basil to take home. This plant is grown in and around most gardens and verandahs. Valued for its sweet aroma and green leaves. There are two kinds the small leaf variety and the larger which is normally used in cooking. The worship of the holy cross comes from Helen the mother of Constantine the Great, who was the first Christian emperor, his mother who allegedly found the true Cross of Christ in Palestine and intern became a Saint herself. 

 

SAINT YERASIMOS 20th OCTOBER

 

On this day another very similar celebration takes place, this time in remembrance of the day that the Saints body was exhumed and found to be miraculously intact.