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!
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.
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…
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While 80% of Greece is mountainous, you associate Greece with the sea, and Greeks have a very strong sea culture. Let’s not forget that Greece has a coastline of over 13000 km making it the country with second largest coastline in Europe. Fish have always had a special position in Greece. In antiquity it was a major part of the local diet and the main source of protein. In modern Greece they are equally special. The photos above are significant because they show how common and important fish was in the daily life in Greece. The illustrations are from a Greek school book first published in 1955, it was used in Greek schools until 1978. Every time I see these photos, especially the one with the mother holding fresh fish and the daughter bringing the olive oil and the pan to fry them, I remember the smell of frying fish taking over the whole neighborhood and how it tasted so good.
Fish consumption in the traditional Mediterranean diet was mainly limited to small fish like sardines and anchovies sometime fresh, but many times salted or marinated. Those who lived near the coast had easier access to fresh fish while those who lived in mountainous areas bought their fish from the fishmonger who would come once or twice a week in summer, less often in the winter.
Apart from eating fish at home, going out for fish is a special occasion. Taking someone out for fish in Greece is the equivalent of taking out someone for a filet mignon if you were to eat meat. It is the ultimate honor for your guest. When I say fish, in this case it is usually supposed to be some huge extravagant fish grilled and accompanied by one of my favorite sauces latholemono (olive oil and lemon-see recipe below) and simple steamed vegetables or boiled horta (wild greens). Since the fish is the centerpiece, there is no need for rich appetizers or complex side dishes.
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!
Divers returning to the site of an ancient wreck off the Greek island of Antikythera have found artefacts scattered over a wide area of the steep, rocky sea floor. These include intact pottery, the ship’s anchor and some puzzling bronze objects. The team believes that hundreds more items could be buried in the sediment nearby.
The Antikythera wreck, which dates from the first century BC, yielded a glittering haul when sponge divers discovered it at the beginning of the 20th century. Among jewellery, weapons and statues were the remains of a mysterious clockwork device, dubbed the Antikythera mechanism.
Bar a brief visit by the undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau in the 1970s (featured in his documentary Diving for Roman Plunder), no one had visited the wreck since, leading to speculation about what treasures might still be down there. The locals told tales of giant marble statues lying beyond the sponge divers’ reach, while ancient technology geeks like me wondered whether the site might be hiding another Antikythera mechanism, or at least some clues as to whom this mysterious object belonged to…