Drama: An ancient Dionysian custom on Epiphany Day (PHOTOS)

Monastiraki of Drama

If in most of the country, on Epiphany day, they dive to catch the cross in the sea, lakes or rivers, in Monastiraki of Drama, they do something completely different. Here, they celebrate the end of the twelve days completely differently, with an event called "Arapides", one of the country's most special Epiphany customs.

Specifically, similar events take place in six other villages of Drama apart from Monastiraki, in Kali Vrysi, where they call it "Babougera", in Volakas, in Pagoneri, in Petrousa, in Xiropotamos and in Pyrgos, some of them peak on January 6th, others on the 7th and this in Kali Vrysi on the 8th of the month.

These customs, which have their roots very deep in time, have pagan references; in fact, for this reason, as the President of the Educational Cultural Association of Monastiraki, Mr Ioannis Papoutsis, informed Travel, dictator Ioannis Metaxas had banned them throughout Macedonia.

However, the inhabitants continued to observe them in some areas, and thus, they were preserved.

Monastiraki is only 5 kilometres from the city of Drama, and every year, the Epiphany revives the custom of the "Arapides", a custom of Dionysian descent, which usually starts two or three days before and culminates on January 6.

But this mainly concerns the tourists because, as Mr Papoutsis said, "we talk about this all year round," which means two things. Firstly, there is a relevant preparation that starts much earlier than the day of the celebration, and secondly, it is a deeply rooted custom in the culture of the place.

It is an event in the "National Index of Intangible Cultural Heritage" like the "Babougera" of Kali Vrysis.

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The "Arapides" wear black capes, pointed goat masks, bells on their waists and wooden swords in their hands/Photo: Educational Cultural Association of Monastiraki.

The "Arapides" are a group of men disguised with black capes and tall pointed masks made of goat's sheep, bells - or "battles" as they are called - on their waists and wooden swords in their hands. They are even accompanied by the "Grandfathers", the "Giliges", and the "Choliades" under the sounds of three-stringed pear-shaped lyres and dairedas.

The event is aimed at Eveteria, the fertile year and is based on the triptych of resurrection, eugenics and fruitfulness, i.e. it is related to the resurrection of nature after winter, to the fertility of nature and the wish for a good harvest as well as for people for many strong children.

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The custom begins two or three days before Epiphany Day

The custom starts two or three days before Epiphany day with the tuning of the lyres, with feasts and dances at the Cultural Workshop of Arapidos-Masks and Koudounios of the village.

During the stay at the Workshop, the preparation and initiation of the "cheta" of the group, i.e. the men participating in the event, as only men from 14 to 40 years of age are allowed to participate.

On the same day as the sun sets, small children enter the street with bells that ring loudly and "signal" that the "Arapides" are coming; they are the precursors of what will follow the next day.

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The "Tsoliades" or "Evzones" also participate in the "cheta"

On the day of Epiphany now, in the morning, the "cheta", dressed in goat masks, shepherd's capes and large bells around their waists, together with the musicians, go around the village streets and visit the houses one by one, drawing the villagers along to the dancing and feasting.

Then, they head to the cemetery, where they go to the graves of old Arapids and play their favourite songs. As Papoutsis explains, "a conversation with the dead".

Finishing from the cemetery, they head to the village square for the "trano choros", the main part of the event, in an atmosphere defined by chants, music and loud bells.

A big dance is therefore set up in the square where the "Giliges" men dressed in traditional, local women's costumes participate, who are responsible for maintaining order and the ritual of the dance, and the "Grandfathers" dressed in the old festive local men's costume.

In the "cheta", the "Tsoliades" or "Evzones" also participate wearing a dress, a black scarf and embroidered "chevres" on their shoulders and twirl in front of the first dancer of the circle showing their phalluses, symbols of fertility.

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While the dance continues, two Arapids abduct a "Giliga" and carry her out of the dance to impregnate her, while two Tsoliades take her away from the Arapids and put her first in the dance in honour, a move that symbolises human fertility and its importance.

After a while, a fight breaks out between two Arapides, and their fight ends in the death of one. However, all the Arapides gather around the dead man and by dancing and jumping, they resurrect him with the sound of bells, which symbolises the resurrection.

Finally, two Arapids enter the dance circle, pulling a plough with a pair of Tsolias and a sower, an act symbolising the ploughing and sowing of the field and the fertility of the land; then the Arapids stomp on the earth and fly up in supplication so that it rains so that the seed grows.

With this last act, it is already evening, and the dance gets smaller and slowly closes, marking the end of the action and the twelve days. But before they disperse, villagers and visitors are promised they will all be there again next year.

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