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”…
Myths tell the stories of ancestors and the origin of humans and the world, the gods, supernatural beings (satyrs, nymphs, mermaids) and heroes with super-human, usually god-given, powers (as in the case of Heracles or Perseus of the Greeks). Myths also describe origins or nuances of long-held customs or explain natural events such as the sunrise and sunset, the full moon or thunder and lightning storms.
One of the most famous myths of ancient Greece is of Demeter, goddess of the grain, and her daughter Persephone. Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and brought down to the underworld. Demeter searched desperately everywhere for the maiden but could not find her. During this time of Demeter’s sorrow the crops failed and people starved and the gods were not given their due. Zeus, king of the gods, ordered Hades to restore Persephone to her mother and Hades obliged but, because Persephone had eaten a certain number of pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, she had to spend half the year below the earth and could enjoy the other half with her mother.
This story explained the change of the seasons in Greece. When it is warm and the fields are bountiful, Persephone is with her mother and Demeter is happy and causes the world to bloom; in the cold and rainy season, when Persephone is below the earth with Hades, Demeter mourns and the land lies barren.
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…
Nicopolis is probably the biggest archaeological site in Greece people have never heard of. OK, fair enough, SOME people have heard of Nicopolis, but not many. Is this because it’s really Roman in origin? Is it because it sits quite isolated on the west coast of Greece? Or is it because no-one can decide if they should spell it Nikopolis or Nicopolis? Who Knows?! Come and discover a less known part of Greece with Dave’s Travel Pages…
Nicopolis is a massive archaeological site, located near the modern Greek city of Preveza. Unlike many ancient Greek sites, such as Delphi or Mycenae, its name does not appear in Greek myths and legends. In fact, describing it as an ancient Greek site at all is perhaps a little misleading. The reason for this, is that Nicopolis was founded in 31BC by the Roman Octavian to commemorate his victory in the Battle of Actium against Antony and Cleopatra.
The name Nicopolis literally means ‘City of Victory’, but it was far more than that. It was a symbol of a reunified Roman Empire, and was also perfectly positioned as a trade, communication, and transport hub between the Eastern and Western parts of the Mediterranean. This was all fine whilst the Roman Empire was all powerful. At the point that wandering gangs of Goths, Heruli, and other assorted tribes started sacking cities, its isolation was a little more apparent.
I tasted “spoon sweets” for the very first time when I was very young. In our garden my grandfather had planted two apricot trees which made delicious apricots and their stone was as sweet as almonds. Every summer around June, my mother used to pick apricots while they were still hard. The ripe fruit was used by the ladies living in the neighborhood to make delicious jam. I remember my mother doing this job with love and patience. She would wash the apricots, peal them, left them overnight in lime and then placed them carefully in a large heavy pot to cook them. Instead of almonds she would add in the sweet the stones of the apricots which she would break with a wooden hammer. The sweet smell of apricot remains for days at home. And the color of the syrup was so bright…
Aunt Asimina used to make sweet and sour cherries from the trees she had in her yard while grandmother Elenitsa was a specialist in making sweet grape with lots of almonds.
The serving of this particular type of sweets in the 50′s was still a ritual. The jars with the sweets of various fruit were locked in a closet away from the reach of children of the house. The jars appeared whenever there were visitors at home. The “spoon sweet” was served in a special jar with spoons hanging from its neck. Each visitor would take a spoonful of the sweet straight from the jar and serve it on a special crystal plate. Probably the name of this sweet comes from this particular procedure. “Spoon sweet”! A unique name! I could never find a corresponding name in other languages. The “Spoon sweet” slowly began to lose its primacy in the family houses. As in the 60’s the electric refrigerator found its place in Greek homes, initially in big cities and later in little towns and villages, the ladies of the house turned their interest into more sophisticated sweets based on outlandish ingredients which could be kept in the refrigerator. The “spoon sweet” was put aside and began to be regarded as old fashioned, forgotten by most households even in the country side…
sourse/read more: visitgreece,gr
Greece is principally famous for its exceptional olive oil, the agricultural products, its unique Mediterranean cuisine and its rich history dating back to Ancient Times. The one thing left out of the list is the domestic production of high quality beers, a section that fairly claims its participation in the “Quality Greek Products” list!
The history of beer is vast and beer lovers around the globe just countless! Travel with us in this hidden part of Greek tradition and be a Greek beer lover too!
Today Google is dedicating its Doodle to the great Greek theater director Karolos Koun who reformed the Greek theater
(1908–87), Greek director, who while teaching English in Athens during the 1930s mounted a remarkable series of productions of the classics performed by young people. In 1942, during the German occupation, he founded the Art Theatre (Theatro Technis) in Athens, where he produced the plays of ancient and modern Greece as well as such works as Ibsen’s The Wild Duck (1942), García Lorca’s Blood Wedding (1948), and The Glass Menagerie (1947) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1949). The theatre was closed because of his Communist sympathies between 1949 and 1954. His work for other companies included Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1950) and for the Greek National Theatre Pirandello’s Henry IV and Chekhov’s Three Sisters. In 1962 he took his company to the Théâtre Des Nations in Paris, where their performance of Aristophanes’ Birds was much admired. It was seen during the World Theatre Season of 1964, and again in 1965 and 1967 together with Aeschylus’ Persians and Aristophanes’ Frogs respectively; in 1969 the company presented Aristophanes’ Lysistrata there. In 1967 Koun also directed Romeo and Juliet for the RSC. Koun’s school of drama, attached to the Art Theatre, supplied the Greek stage with a number of leading actors. The company moved to a new building in 1981.
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.