Have been working on producing a book for the Leven Litts Writers’ group of Alexandria entitled ‘I remember when…’. Many members of the group have written pieces which are very local. However, as regular readers (I know for certain there are now three!) I’m a recent local and a lot of my memories hail from my sojourn in Greece. In Britain ‘Twelfth night’, if thought of at all is either remembered as the title of a play by Shakespeare or the date bt which all Christmas trees and decorations must be removed. However, in Greece, we had an opportunity for a second Christmas – on January 6th. I did actually write this for last year but then forgot to send it to Pat, until February!
This traditionally celebrates the visit of the three Magi but their journey certainly took longer than twelve days. It is generally accepted that from the first sighting of the New Star it took them two years to reach Bethlehem. Hence Herod’s order to kill all children aged two and under, He was hedging his bets. But it also begs the questions, ‘Why had Jesus, Mary and Joseph remained in Bethlehem and not returned to Galilee?
The Blessing of the water and boats is perhaps the Greek ceremony best known as it often features in films although not always portrayed at the right time of the year. As far as I’m aware it’s not a movable feast. For those of the Greek Orthodox Church who follow the old calendar - the Julian one - Jan 6th is the ‘real’ Christmas. I’ve never managed to work out why Easter isn’t similarly celebrated twice! Suppose it’s to do with the fact that Easter is a moveable feast so dates can be manipulated - said she cynically!
On Spetses people began to assemble around the Dapia from around ten in the morning, earlier if you wanted to get a seat in one of the many cafes that surrounded the harbour giving a good view of the ceremony. This weather was usually crisp and clear, although it could be quite cold to freezing and drizzly to stormy. All depended on the gods.
A religious service was held in St Nicholaos Church near the Old Harbour and about 11am the priest, local dignitaries and icons would process across the island, through the town round the Dapia to the side of the harbour adjoining Boubalina Square. When I heard the priest intoning and saw the microphones and speakers being carried I couldn’t help thinking of Russ Abbott’s personal stereo set (an esoteric allusion for the more mature reader!)
This was the first year girls had been allowed to participate. This may seem no big deal in present society but this ceremony had always been a male preserve and we are talking about Spetses!
After another brief service, mostly comprising blessings, the girls and boys entered the water. Some more stalwart souls entered the water before the blessings. There were boats on hand in the event of rescue being required. The Priest threw the Cross, these days securely attached to a piece of string in case no-one finds it, into the water. In a comparatively short while, this isn’t Hollywood, one of the divers emerged, holding the Cross on high and receiving enthusiastic applause, with loud cries of ‘ωραιο’ informing all present of the family to which the holder of the Cross belonged! His reward was a gold cross and chain, which he would probably wear for the rest of his life, and a special blessing of good fortune for the coming year.
Some then went to tavernas and restaurants to have an early lunch, others for coffee. We joined friends in a small bar. One of those friends was Yani, a buggy driver. It was the first time I’d ever seen him freshly shaved and dressed very smartly in sporting jacket, collar and tie and slacks. He was looking out through the window at the crowds passing by:
‘Look at them. You can smell the ‘ναφθαλίνη’, (naphthalene).’
This was a reference to the ‘best’ clothes that were only brought out on special occasions.
He went on to draw attention to the amount of make-up worn by some of the more mature ladies, equating it with ‘στόκο’ (stucco). He had chosen his imagery carefully as his final words made clear:
‘They greet each other today with kisses and good wishes but last week they were stabbing each other in the back and will be again next week.’