St George the Mandilas, the origins of a 300 years old Meteora tradition
photos source: infotouristmeteora.gr
Saint George was a Greek who became an officer in the Roman army. His father was the Greek Gerondios from Cappadocia Asia Minor and his mother was the Greek Polychronia from the city Lyda. Lyda was a Greek city from the times of the conquest of Alexander the Great (333 BC), now in Israel. He became an officer in the Roman army in the Guard of Diocletian. He is venerated as a Christian martyr.
There are many different customs around Greece honoring Saint George’s memory, but only one that we know of to involve colorful head scarfs, climbing and dancing on the cliffs very edge all at the same time. It takes place on an old ruined monastery dedicated to Saint that was build inside a cave some 40 meters above ground on the north side of a Meteora rock.
There is an old story circulating from mouth to mouth mainly in Kastraki village about the origins of the custom.
In the early 17th century Meteora area like the rest of the Thessaly and most of Greece was under the Ottoman rule. A Muslim landowner and his wife were cutting down some trees next to Saint George’s hermitage. While the Muslim man was chopping down the woods he had an awful accident. The tree he was cutting down fell over him and as a consequence he was badly wounded. His wife immediately upon realizing her husband’s accident she rushed to help him, but she couldn’t do much.
The man lay there on the ground with his wife crying over him when people from the nearby village of Kastraki heard the hopeless screams for help of the injured man’s wife, and so they rushed there to check out what exactly has happened.
Upon seeing the seriously wounded man on the ground they immediately realized that the Muslim man had slim chances to win the day. So all they could do was to advice his wife to turn to Saint George and prey on him for help…
The mirth, the pleasantries, the teases and mainly the disguises dominate during Carnival, a period totally different from any other part of the year.
The Carnival in Naoussa is also characterized by the spontaneity, the enthusiasm, the hospitable disposal of local inhabitants, the carousals without any particular preparation, the satiric carnivals. However the most particular and central element is the custom of “Boules” or “Janissaries and Boules”. It is a custom with deep roots which incorporated elements of the local tradition and heroic fights throughout its many centuries history. Although its flourishing time is located at the end of 19th and the begging of 20th century, the custom exists inalterable up to our days.
Contrary to the “disarray” that prevails during Carnival, the custom of Naoussa is characterized by discipline and standardised and exceptional aesthetic appearance of the participants. The clothing, the grouping, the adoration, the itinerary, the musical repertory, the dances, the barrel organs and the participants preserve the same rules through centuries.
The custom begins on the first Sunday of the Carnival where the groups visit the houses of their members and celebrate and continues on Monday. It is also repeated on Sunday of Carnival (Tyrinis) and Shrove Monday where the groups and the crowd celebrate with traditional delicacies and the famous wine of Naoussa in the square of Alonia. On Sunday of Ordodoxy all groups meet in the region of “Spilaio” in order to celebrate with traditional pies, special desserts made in pans and abundant wine.
Photo: the celebration of the Sanctification of the Water in Naousa
Today, January 6th, is the celebration of the Sanctification of the Water, the Epiphany or Fota , meaning that the water was blessed when Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan by Saint John the Baptist.
The day is celebrated all over Greece with the priest throwing the cross into the sea, a river, a lake or any body of water near each area and young men jumping into the -usually cold -water trying to catch it. The one who catches it is supposed to be blessed all year long.
I remember when I was a kid the priest used to go around the houses of the neighbourhood and bless them with holy water, but I haven’t seen that for some time now.
The point of this holiday is the Enlightenment through the appearance of God (THEOFANIA) and the blessing.
Except for the waters, we can think of many people who DESPERATELY need BLESSING and ENLIGHTMENT here and now,
In the well-known ancient myth about how the Athenians chose their patron deity, the Greek goddess Athena won the sympathy of the city’s people by offering them the olive tree as a gift. This myth, placing the origin of the olive tree in the hands of the goddess of wisdom sometime in a very distant past, is but one of many stories about how important the olive tree is for the Greeks and the Mediterranean in general, from Palestine to Portugal and Tunis to Trieste. For example, on the island of Crete, the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the production of olive oil dates back to the Minoan kingdoms (i.e. around 4,000 years ago); some of the island’s olive groves are actually thousands of years old, having grown under the care of countless generations of Cretans…
This coming Monday is – yet another – special day in Greece. You may know it (or have heard of it) as Pure Monday, Ash Monday, Monday of Lent or Green Monday. We Greeks call it Clean Monday or “Kathará Deftéra”. It’s the celebration that marks the beginning of Lent, according to the Orthodox Church, it’s a moveable feast that’s always celebrated 48 days before Easter Sunday and it’s a public holiday across the country.
Clean Monday is so called because people are meant to cleanse their souls and bodies before Lent. And whereas soul-cleansing is done through prayer, going to mass etc, the cleansing of the body is taken care of through fasting. As such, Clean Monday is a “meatless” day, so the food on the table on that day (essentially the family lunch, since it’s a holiday) consists of “nistissima”, ie foods suitable for Lent fasting.
Nistissima is anything but meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. Everything else is allowed, including seafood and shellfish, vegetables (roast, fried or pickled), salads, rice or pasta dishes (usually with tomato sauce and seafood), as well as dips such as taramosalata and eggplant salad (melitzanosalata). Also very typical is the azyme bread that’s only made – and consumed – on Clean Monday, called “lagána”…
Today we are going to tell you about the Greek tradition of 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…
Today we are going to send you on a strange, but very entertaining and…dirty trip outside Athens to celebrate Clean Monday.We are sending you to Galaxidi, a usually peaceful seaside town, which brings in the first day of Orthodox Lent with a massive flour war! Visitors and residents (only if they want to) put on goggles, masks, and their oldest clothes and scramble to chuck flour dyed in bright colours at everybody. After all the flour has been thrown, the powdery people gather into the centre of their colourful town and the party starts with eating, drinking, and dancing. We have been there, as you can see in the photos, and we can tell you that we had the time of our lives. The only problem we had was driving back to Athens with all that flour in our ears and noses, so if you can spend that night there and get cleaned up it’s better.
On August 15th – also a public holiday – Greeks all over the country will celebrate one of Christianity’s most significant days, the Dormition of Virgin Mary. Some call this day “the summer Easter” to show the importance of the celebration, and many thousands of people attend religious services throughout the country.
Virgin Mary is a holy figure for Greeks not only because she gave birth to Jesus but because worshippers have connected Her with the Greek nation’s freedom in many cases. As a result, the mother of Jesus has been given several different names all over Greece as locals wanted to thank Virgin Mary for her aid in some of the woes they faced. It’s the same holy figure, having taken different names, though.