Carnival in Greece: GAITANAKI (dance)

by Valentina Velikova

Gaitanaki is a traditional Greek dance that we dance during the carnival. It is a colourful and funny dance!

We need 13 people for this dance! One person is holding a wooden pole with 12 ribbons hanging from its top. The ribbons have different colours and every person is holding a ribbon.

When the music begins, the dancers move towards the pole, go under the other dancer’s ribbon, move far from the pole and then towards the pole again! A colourful braid is created on the pole when the dance finishes.

This dance is a symbol of the circle of life. We move from happiness to sadness, from winter to spring, from life to death and the opposite!

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The Greek Lenten Table

Several years ago, I spent the night before «Clean Monday», as Greeks call the first day of Lent, baking the traditional Lenten flatbread lagana with a local Athenian baker. Even though he went about his business methodically and professionally, turning out more than a thousand or so loaves, he didn’t fail to observe all the traditions of th fast. Indeed, he was a part of those traditions, for lagana, which traces its roots to the flat grilled porridges of the ancient Greeks, is the lenten bread par excellence.

Byzantine hymns wailed softly in the background as his assistant cut off quarter-kilo rounds of dough. The baker took each piece, slapped it onto his floured work table and proceeded to roll it into perfect ovals with a special studded rolling pin. Every half hour or so he walked over to a counter at the back of the bakedry where he had his evening meal laid out: a container with taramosalata, the Greek fish roe spread, which he ate with fresh tender stalks of young garlic; small pickled green peppers; a small plate of mixed pickled vegetables and olives; a few pieces of rice-stuffed squid and some octopus preserved in vinegar brine. A wedge of halva lay on its side, waiting for the baker to sprinkle some lemon juice over it and wash it down with some retsina. In that small array of dishes, I realized, the whole philosophy of the Greek Lenten table was apparent.

Thinking of Lent as a period of culinary significance might seem ironic–after all the Fast is meant as a period of spiritual and physical cleansing. Yet, some of the best fare in all of Greek cooking are the dishes culled from the tradition of abstention, from the 40 day period before Easter when one shuns all animal products. Until just a few decades ago, the majority of Greeks abided by the dictates of the religious calendar, fasting not only before Easter but before many other major holidays, so that they actually kept off meat and dairy products for nearly half the year. As a result, a whole culinary repertory evolved that is a mirror of the ingenuity of home cooks who relied on the bounty of the season to provide filling, nutritious meals. Greek Lenten recipes are delicious!





Carnival or Apokries in Greece


No, don’t worry, we haven’t lost our national character or costumes, it’s Carnival or Apokries in Greece, a feast  of fun celebrated all over the country with masquerade and parties.

This festival dates back to Dionyssus, the ancient Greek god of wine and fun and it was meant to worship him  as well as to help the earth put forth shoots-hence the various leaping dances and the various kinds of disguise in order to please harmful spirits. In ancient Greece this festival took place in early spring, today it’s celebrated 40 days before Easter, so we can see that this ceremony has been incorporated into the Christian religion.
The name APOKRIES means “abstention from meat” , because  after that starts the period of Lent that goes on till Easter.
The characteristic of Carnival is disguising and wearing masks. Can you see what the masks remind you of?  YES ! The clay masks worn by actors in ancient Greek theatre. The costumes and disguises offered-and still do- anonymity and freedom of expression.
Apokries is celebrated all over Greece, with feasts that can’t always be described as ‘decent”- in memory of Dionyssus and his followers, who worshiped the phallus and fertility. The songs sung again cannot be described as “decent”, and if you go I hope your Greek is not enough to help you understand the lyrics !!!
This year  the beginning of Carnival or Triodion was on the 21st February – by Tiodion we mean, the beginning of the 3-week Carnival Season which ends on Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera) 15/03/21, the beginning of Lent before Easter.  In between is  TSIKNOPEMPTI,  a very interesting feast, a Thursday when everyone eats meat (04/03). Tsiknopempti  is supposed to be the last meat-eating until Easter (02/05, this year).
The end of Carnival is marked by KATHARI DEFTERA, “Clean Monday”, 15/03 this year, and a long weekend .This Monday is “clean” because we get really serious about not eating meat and going healthy and we eat seafood, pickles, laganes ( a kind of flat round bread) and tarama (a dip made of fish eggs), all that accompanied by wine-that’s when we forget about being serious!
We also fly kites! Preferably in places without electricity wires above, hoping to get the right wind and trying to hush kids up when they go “:But I thought the kite was for ME, daddy, not for you and your friends !!!” NOTE THAT Kite flying will be allowed this Kathari Deftera, only in areas walking distance from your residence.
With that we leave you, hoping you will enjoy Kathari Deftera in Greece and come back with your experiences from this cheerful holiday !!!
photos are from Karnavali of Patras, the Carnival parade ! (from their official cite)

Martis or Martia


Dearest friends,

This little bracelet is called MARTIS or MARTIA and mothers used to make it for their children-now we make it ourselves-to protect them from the first hot sun of spring.

The MARTIS bracelet custom dates back into time, as you can imagine-everything here does, right? – and was found in the Elefsinian rituals, Its name was KROKI and it was a bracelet worn by the priestesses of the temple in Elefsina around their right hand and left foot.

You are supposed to wear it during the whole month and then, when the first swallows are back, you hang it on your rose bushes so that the swallows take them to build their nests.
If you don’t have rose bushes, hang it somewhere for the swallows to see.

Do you like mine ? 

Distinguished EPITAFIOS in Athens

Some of you are going to be in Athens during Easter, so we thought it would be nice if you knew where to find the most picturesque and traditional Epitafios (a procession of the icons and the coffin of Jesus Christ around the streets of the district).


It ‘s always on Good Friday evening, usually around 8 or 9, except the Monastery of Kaisariani where it takes place 2 – 2:30 in the afternoon through the forest.
So, the most beautiful are in Plaka, at the churches of Agia Aikaterini (starts at 19.30)
and Metohi Panagiou Tafou in Erextheos str.(starts at 19.00).
Other churches where the Epitafios are special and have beautiful choirs are: Kapnikarea church on Ermou street, Agios Georgios Karytsis with singers from the National Opera in Karytsi square, Agia Eirini on Aiolou street and, more quiet and peaceful, Agios Dimitrios in Plaka (7, Epimenidou street).
Another idea is the monasteries of Pendeli, Agios Ioannis Kynigos in Agia Paraskevi.
Remember to have candles with you (brown for Friday, white or a decorated or plain white one for Saturday) and enjoy it with all your heart!

What follows on the video is perhaps the most beautiful hymn of the Greek Orthodox Church.

It’s the mourning of Virgin Mary for her dead son. Although it may sound strange to you, try to listen to it, especially after 4.25”. The singer is a very young traditional music singer, but her performance in Byzantine music is remarkable.  We would love to hear some of your impressions.


Easter for me has very specific smells that bring back memories from my childhood.

All that being said, I can confide in you that Easter smells of violets – understandable! -ammonia, that my mom used in Easter cookies to help them raise -NOT pleasant- and sour orange tree blossoms that bloomed in every neighbourhood,and still do.

 That’s about my Easters in Athens as a child.

Now let’s talk about YOUR Easter in Greece, or better, what we think your Easter in Greece should be like and what you should not miss.
CORFU is famous for having a very artistic and …musical Easter.
On Good Thursday and Good Friday you can attend the mass at the Cathedral – with an organ -, the bands go around the streets playing mournful music, and the procession of Epitafios through the little streets of the old town late in the evening give an air of mysticissm and sanctity. The hymns of Good Friday are my personal favourites!
All that until Saturday morning at 11, when people break pottery by throwing them from the windows, in an attempt to chase THE evil-which is not intimidated at all, as we can all see!!!!
CHIOS island and a lot more, like Kalymnos, are famous for the “rocket war”, a very fierce and loud firework throwing and battle between neighbourhoods.
 Very spectacular, very loud!
HYDRA, this very special island of Argosaronikos, is famous for putting the Epitafios into the sea in order to bless the sea water. Considering that Hydra was a naval society that depended on sea fares and trade, that makes perfect sense.
In the CYCLADES I have my personal favourites:
Paros, and more specifically the Epitafios in Marpissa and Santorini in Pyrgos, one of the most beautiful villages of the island, with the little lanterns on the slope of the rock that light up the whole place.
 What I like about Easter in Crete is -except for the food and the music and dancing that I adore – is the burning of Judas after the resurrection. One big dummy that represents Judas is placed on a bonfire-with a whistle in his…well, backside, and is burned after church with everyone celebrating and the whistle blowing.
Mmmmmm, interesting habit!
.A sweet place, quite near Athens, with small pebble beaches and mountain villages, with a very particular habit:
On Saturday, as soon as the priest announces the resurrection of Jesus -that’s midnight – the sky is filled with paper balloons of various colours that are made by the local people or neighbourhoods. Very spectacular!
The other areas celebrate Easter in their own ways, all very particular and all related to the local habits, customs and traditions. I cannot recommend only one place, there are too many! Remember that Easter is our most important Christian holiday.
So, find your own favourite place, go, enjoy, come back and tell us:


(*)Welcome 1000 times !!! 

Welcome to the world of the Greek tradition 


Dear friends
this time you will have the chance to literally “live” in the world of the most important elements of Greek tradition and culture: the traditional Music, songs, costumes and dances.
We are going to visit Idryma Zisi (Zisis foundation), founded in 1975, which is one of the most important foundations working hard all these years to restore, preserve and spread the Greek traditional and Byzantine music, traditional songs, costumes, dances and instruments from all over the country. 
Its aim is to give an overall insight into Greek culture and tradition. 
Our visit will start with the history of the foundation and an introduction to the significance of the Greek tradition.Then the foundation people will show us their rich collection of 1200 costumes and give us info about them, and then, the people who would like to, will have the chance to dress up with some of them and take photos! 
Following the “theoretical part” of our visit, we have two surprises prepared for you !
  Not only will you practice your first steps of a few Greek traditional dances with one of their teachers, 
but also will have a lesson with one of their most talented traditional song teachers !
This whole event will take place in Halandri, at 5 Kolokotroni str. right after Dourou square – platia Dourou- (Google maps)on Sunday February 17, will last for approx 3 hours – 1 hour costumes and photos, 1 hour dancing lesson and 1 hour singing lesson –  from 11:00 to 14:00, and, needless to say, afterwards we will all go eating at a nearby taverna.  Bear in mind that we changed the date from the 10th since some of you told us you couldn’t make it ! Since the event is on a Sunday, it won’t 
be difficult to park on the side streets near the foundation. Alternatively, there are parking lots nearby.
Details will follow.
Date: Sunday February 17
Time: 11:00 to 14:00
Place: 5 Kolokotroni str. Halandri (after Dourou square)
 If the group is large, then we will have to form two  separate groups which will work at the same time, and we will need more teachers and a translator. 
Please apply by February 15
More details and  applications by 
email (Katerina Tsitsipi)
land line: (+0030) 210 – 8077073
Cell, Whats App, Viber  (+0030) 6988 607866
Do not miss this event !!!

“Kalin imeran archondes” (“good day Lords”)

(photo)”Children singing the Christmas carols”:

painting by Nikiforos Lytras

carols-lytrasIf someone rings your doorbell early in the morning of  24, 31 December or 5 January, don’t think it’s a naughty neighbor determined to wake you up, it will probably be children singing the “calanda”, the Greek  Christmas carols. These are sung by groups of children or, at least two, accompanied by little triangles, accordions, or guitars. As you open the door, the children will ask you: “Na ta poume?” (Shall we say them?). Your line here is: “Na ta pite” (go ahead and say them). After 25 groups of carol singers you may say: No, thank you, or just not open. Now, you should know that our calanda are very cheerful and joyful songs, they go way back in history (like everything else here), you will absolutely love them, you won’t understand a word because the language is formal Greek with a touch of Ancient Greek. Therefore, open your purse and give the little ones some money, even if you hated them, just for the time they spent learning all these words! You know, in the past homeowners offered the children sweets and pastries, but now…you can’t really pay for your PLAYSTATION with melomakarona, can you?

We’ll be back with more about Christmas in Greece.

* “children singing the Christmas carols”: by Nikiforos Lytras


Christmas Customs in Greece

Christmas in Greece can be a lot of things: it can be White-unusual ! – or warm, or HOT ! But in any case, it’s celebrated all over the country, maybe not as gloriously as in the rest of the world-let’s not forget that Easter is our biggest holiday-but our customs are quite interesting and some of them date back into history. Let’s see some of them:

CALANDA (Greek Christmas carols):

If someone rings your doorbell early in the morning of 24, 31 December or 5 January, don’t think it’s a naughty neighbour determined to wake you up, it will probably be children singing the “calanda”, the Greek Christmas carols. These are sung by groups of children or at least two, accompanied by little triangles, accordions, or guitars. As you open the door, the children will ask you: “Na ta poume?” (Shall we say them?). Your line here is: “Na ta pite” (go ahead and say them). After 25 groups of carol singers you may say: No, thank you, or just not open. Now, you should know that our calanda are very cheerful and joyful songs, they go way back in history (like everything else here), you will absolutely love them, you won’t understand a word because the language is formal Greek with a touch of Ancient Greek. Therefore, open your purse and give the little ones some money, even if you hated them, just for the time they spent learning all these words!



Our personal favourite sweet and custom of the New Year is the VASILOPITA, the cake we cut and share on New Year’s Eve or Day. The vasilopita is usually a cake with a coin inside it. As we cut and share it, we cut the first pieces for Jesus, Saint Basil, the poor, the house, and then the members of the family and the friends. The “head” of the family — grand father or father — does the cutting and sharing, the rest of us search to find the coin, as whoever gets it will be the luckiest one throughout the year. Now the history behind this tradition is: In the 14th century Cappadokia, a Byzantine province in Asia Minor, suffered from famine but this fact did not stop the heartless eparch* of the town from demanding to get the taxes, threatening the town with destruction. St.Vasilios, the Bishop in Caesareia, urged the people to offer their valuables in order to rescue their town. The people obeyed and Saint Vasilios collected a pile of offerings to give the eparch*, but the last minute he managed to smooth his heart and change his mind. Now Saint Vasilios had a problem: he was left with a pile of valuables to give back to the people, without knowing who they belonged to! So, he got a brilliant idea: he asked the baker to bake one small cake for each family and he put one piece of jewellery inside. And the miracle happened: each family got what they had given!!! Ever since that time we celebrate this event by sharing the cake with the coin – only one coin, no more…

Eparch: in the Byzantine Empire, the governor of an eparchy



So, now that you know about these customs and habits, you can celebrate Christmas and the New Year in happiness and….more knowlegdable, until we get back from the holidays and find out about… KALIKANTZARI !



Mischievous creatures !


Now that Christmas is just around the corner, it’s time we learnt some things about Greek customs and traditions. Today’s story is about KALIKANTZARI.

They are the Greek elves; only not so benign. They are naughty and mischievous and they live in the center of the earth where they try to cut down the tree that holds the earth with axes and saws. When Christmas comes, as their job is nearly done, they leave the rest for New Year, and climb up onto the surface of the earth to tease people. imagesThey try to get into the houses through the fireplaces and stay there teasing people from the beginning of Christmas season until the 6th of January,  the Epiphany when the priest goes around all houses and sends them away with Holy water. Once they go back to the center of the earth, they find the tree whole and intact, so they start sawing all over again until the next Christmas.

Now, whenever everything goes wrong one day, you know why! Put the blame on the Kalikantzari