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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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 ? 

An Ancient Greek eye on Meteorology

To everyone’s delight, the Αlkyonides days have come again this year!

We can see you wondering: the what???

The alkyonides days, the days of spring in the heart of winter. These days usually last from 15 December to 15 February and they visit Greece every year, with few exceptions,  ie. 1947.

Do you know the myth about them? Alkyoni was  daughter of Aiolos, God of the winds,  and was married to Kiykos. They were so happily married and so much in love that they called each other Zeus and Hera. The real Zeus and Hera felt deeply offended by the sacrilege and decided to punish them severely. So they transformed Kiykos into a bird, a vulcher. Alkyoni searched for her beloved husband everywhere, but couldn’t find him anywhere. She cried and cried until the Gods decided to transform her into a bird as well,  alkyoni. The problem was that alkyoni is the only sea-bird that lays and hatches its eggs in mid-winter. As a result of that, the waves carried them away and she was left in despair. The gods then, touched by her misfortune and misery, decided to cease the bad weather for two weeks to give alkyoni time to reproduce.  So,  as we can all see, there are some days of spring in the heart of winter which give us the opportunity to … hatch our eggs, take them out in the sunshine, admire them as they are riding their bikes while we are enjoying the heightened temperatures for the season.

(this is one of quite a few versions)

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.

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 !



St George the Mandilas at Meteora

St George the Mandilas, the origins of a 300 years old Meteora tradition


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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…



Thermal Spas to Heal your Body, Mind, Soul

via:A Greek Adventure

Greece has these amazing places where the combination of the essence of nature prime elements, minerals and water mix with the senses and simply… relax and heal you.

These healing places are thermal spas. Places with warm water springs where you soak your body, following special rules, while the effects of raw nature force come through the pores of your body.

Here is a good number of them where the water is considered extremely good and healing for the body. Almost all of them are in places of great beauty, green and quite serene

go to:, and read about:

Thermal Spas at Greek Islands

Thermal Spa in Evoia

Thermal Spas at mainland Greece

Thermal Spas in Peloponnese




Carnival in Greece: Naoussa

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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.






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The buried statues of war

The hiding of the ancient treasures of the National Archaeological Museum on the eve of the German occupation of Athens, 1941.



The hiding of the ancient treasures of the National Archaeological Museum on the eve of the German occupation of Athens, 1941.

by Kostas Paschalidis (1)

During a period of six months prior to the German invasion of Greece a group of workers and archaeologists was digging the floors of the National Archeological Museum to bury Athens’s most valuable treasures: its Kouroi and Lekythoi.

On Sunday 27th April 1941 the German troops occupied Athens. Early the next morning, when the German officers hurried up the marble steps of the National Archaeological Museum, they were surprised to discover that they were taking over an empty building. They couldn’t find a trace of the thousands of valuable exhibits that were housed in the country’s largest museum for the past sixty years of its existence. Instead of statues they saw before them the few frozen and expressionless archaeologists and guards who were on duty at the time. To the officers’ persistent questions, the latter answered enigmatically that antiquities are always where everybody knows they are: under the ground. And it was true. The antiquities had in fact returned underground – to the only ark in the world where they would be safe…

Preparations against the danger of destruction got more intensive with time. With the declaration of war in October 1940, the Department of Archaeology reacted instantly. With a letter sent out on 11th November 1940 to all local sections, it issued technical instructions “for the protection of antiquities in the various museums from air-raid danger”. These included two ways of protecting bulky and non-transportable exhibits: The first one was “to cover the statue with sandbags after protecting it with wooden scaffolding like the sample” and the second one, which was deemed more effective, was to bury the statues in the floor of the hall or the courtyard of the museum or in protected courtyards and basements of public institutions. The burying method was then described in full detail. The statues were to be placed horizontally (like dead bodies in a grave) at the bottom of the ditch which was to be clad in reinforced cement, then covered by inert materials, after which the ditch was to be sealed with a slab.  As for copper and clay items, they were to be stored in crates covered with waxed or tarred paper in order to resist humidity…



At the National Archaeological Museum the alarm sounded off! By a ministerial decree a committee in charge of hiding and securing the museum’s exhibits was formed, headed by 3 Supreme Court Judges (AEROPAGITES) and including the secretary of the Archaeological Society George Oikonomou, the temporary director of the museum Anastasios Orlandos, and professor Spyridon Marinatos, as well as curators Giannis Miliadis, Semni Karouzou, Ioanna Konstandinou and civil engineers and architects from the ministry. Volunteers subsequently joined the team, such as the director of the Austrian Archaeological Institute Otto Walter, the British archaeologist Allan Wace, and the academician Spyros Iakovidis who was a freshman archaeology student at the time. “Really early in the morning, even before the moon had set, the people who had undertaken this job would gather at the museum and they would leave for home really late at night”. Semni Karouzou writes. The storing of the statues would take place according to the size and importance of each one. The bulkiest among them would be lined up standing in deep ditches that had been dug in the floors of the North halls of the museum, whose foundations happened to lay on softer underground. Improvised wooden cranes were used in order to lower the statues into the ditches, and were handled incessantly by the museum’s technicians. The ditches that were reminiscent of mass graves enclosed a dazed multitude of forms, such as the one illustrated in the most valuable of photographs from the museum’s archive (images 5 &6). Amongst the forms of the statues standing awkwardly in their new grave we find one of the anonymous protagonists of this epic of concealment: a technician looking absent-mindedly at the camera lens. As he ponders the uncertain fate of the times, he completely blends in with the surrounding crowd. ‘’If there was no damage done to the marbles despite all the displacements, it is mainly due to the fact that the manager of the workers team at the time was, and remained until the first years after the war, the old experienced and devoted sculptor of the Greek museums, Andreas Panayotakis”, Semni Karouzou recounts.


“In October 1940, when Italy declared war, I had just entered the first year of University” remembers Spyros Iakovides, member of the Athens Academy, in an interview. “The hiding effort had already started and I offered to volunteer. They sent me to one of the storage rooms where there were huge crates. My job was to wrap the Tanagra figurines(3) in old newspapers and then place them carefully in the crates. After that, a special committee took over. We all worked against the clock, in fear of the German invasion, and of course, with utmost care. The Tanagra figurines were easy to wrap. But the vases were very fragile. The work was done in the museum’s basements. The statues were placed like people in a demonstration. Then sand was poured on top, separating the statues from each other yet covering them completely. Finally, a slab of concrete was poured on top. The windows in these basements were sealed with sandbags. This way, nothing could happen during an air raid”. The wooden crates with the clay vases, the figurines, as well as the copper items, were placed in the semi-underground extension of the museum, which had just been completed, towards Bouboulinas street. Subsequently, the rooms were filled up to the ceiling with dry sand in order to resist ruptures to the concrete ceiling in the event of bombing. One memento of this boxing-in endeavour was captured in a photo, the only one showing the museum artisans in a moment of rest. They are looking into the lens without expression – people whose fate during the hard years of the German occupation of Athens is unknown. Semni Karouzou has preserved the name of one of them: “During the whole work of the uprooting and boxing-in of the antiquities of the Collection of Vases and Small Artefacts, a leading role was played by a head artisan, the late Giorgios Kontogiorgis – an architect and one of the artisans who offered so much towards the fame and safety of the antiquities. Along with the antiquities, the boxing-in included the valuable museum inventory catalogues, i.e. the books documenting and registering its treasures. These crates were handed over to the general treasurer of the Bank of Greece on 29th November 1940(4). On 17th April 1941 the wooden crates filled with the golden objects and famous treasures from Mycenae were delivered to the headquarters of said bank. It was the final act of a six-month operation that had succeeded in saving the immeasurable treasures of the largest museum in the country. “The view of the museum in April 1941, stripped from all its content, was an image of abandonment. Naked walls, dug-up floors in many halls, empty showcases”. This was the view seen by German officers on the morning of Monday 28th April: the first day of the German occupation of Athens…


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