Epiphany Celebrations Around the World

Epiphany D Panagos

Epiphany, one of the oldest Christian celebrations, is a significant feast day known as the 12th day of Christmas or Three Kings Day, falling on January 6th. This day symbolizes the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and the visit from three Wise Men. Each country celebrates Epiphany uniquely, and in Greece, this holiday holds special customs that distinguish it.

Epiphany in Greece: Cultural Significance

The English term "Epiphany" originates from the Greek word "theophania," meaning a vision of God. In Greece, it is also called the Celebration of the Lights or "ta fota," signifying the day when the world was illuminated by God's presence, according to the Orthodox Church.

January 6, The Feast of the Holy Epiphany
Epiphany Celebrations Around the World 1

St. John's religious name day also follows on January 7th, making it a popular celebration for those named John, Joanna, Ioannis, or Ioanna. This results in widespread cultural festivities at bars and restaurants. While Epiphany officially marks the end of the Christmas period, Greece observes this transition ceremoniously.

Epiphany Customs in Greece: Tradition and Celebration

Preceding Epiphany, on the day before, Greek children engage in a custom known as "kalanta," singing special holiday songs that symbolically convey the message of Jesus' baptism. Passersby often reward these children with coins for their efforts. In Greek Orthodox Churches, priests perform the Lesser Sanctification of Water or "mikros agiasmos," sprinkling sanctified water on the congregation.

The main event occurs on January 6th with the "Blessing of the Waters." Communities gather by bodies of water, such as seas, lakes, or rivers, for a symbolic event involving swimming in the waters of January. This tradition may vary, but it consistently includes a priest saying prayers, throwing a wooden cross into the water to symbolize the Holy Spirit, and men diving to retrieve it. The first person to grab the cross receives a special blessing from the priest, and good luck is anticipated for the upcoming year.

Epiphany Customs Across Greece: A Diversity of Celebrations

Greeks across the country celebrate Epiphany with a mix of tradition and creativity:

  1. In Athens, thousands gather in Piraeus, the bustling main port of the city, for the Blessing of the Waters.
  2. In Thessalia, the Rougkatsi, a group of 10 costumed villagers, travels from house to house singing.
  3. In Kastoria and Kozani, the Ragkoutsaria involves locals donning scary masks symbolically to ward off evil spirits.
  4. In Halkidiki, northern Greece, the Fotarades sees a local "king" dressed in a traditional shepherd's cape leading a ceremonious dance.

Witnessing these diverse traditions during the first week of January would undoubtedly add a unique and enriching dimension to the travel experience in Greece.

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