I do love the persistent pagan elements that have managed to survive centuries of persecution by the Church! People here have stubornly kept them alive and the Church had no option but to respect and incorporate them in it's rituals :)
Epiphany is the day the nasty demons of the underworld have to go back to the deepest parts of the earth. Their 13 days of causing mischief among the humans are over!
|Kalikandjari visiting the upper world in a painting of P.Tetsis|
In Greece they are called "Kalikandjari",misshapen,black gnomelike creatures,who love to steal sweets from pantries,sour the milk,spill the sugar and in general cause as much trouble as possible! Kalikandjari spend the whole year sawing the trunk of the world tree,the tree that upholds the world...but -lucky for us-they are a bit stupid.
Every year on the 6th of January,just before the tree is cut, they move to the surface world to celebrate their success.The 13 days they spend here are enough for the world tree to grow strong again.
A day before Epiphany in quite a lot of places in Greece, men dress in animal hides and go around the neiborhoods "terrorising" housewives and demanding to be served sweets and alcool :)
In every town,village and city after mass, the priest blesses the waters and then throws the cross in.
Εither some faithful (and brave) souls plunge in to retrieve it or-after some incidents when the cross has been forever lost in the sea- the cross is pulled back by a piece of string, like in this atmospheric video from Akrotiti in Santorini!
In Northern Greece the blessing takes place in rivers or lakes and in some rather awkward circumstances in the village fountain like in the village of Kivotos in Grevena.
Notice the moment of panic as the children can't locate the cross...
After the blessing,the priest, "armed" with a bunch of basil leaves and the now holy water, exorcises the "Kalikandjari" and sends them back to the underworld. Of course after all the rituals everybody is cold and hungry and in the mood for some serious wine drinking and dancing!