Celebrating with carols, crosses, Coca-cola, and cookies

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January 6th, is the celebration of Epiphany, which we simply call ‘Fota’. Orthodox worldwide celebrate the baptism of Christ by St. John the Baptist. It is a day full of tradition for Greece as we acknowledge the sanctifying and blessing of the waters and the rejuvenation and enlightening of our lives.

The most popular ceremony in Greece is in that of throwing the cross into the water and watching young men dive into the often-icy water to fetch it.  It brings luck to he who retrieves it while blessing the waters for all.


Diving for the Cross


in the water



My father-in-law reminds us each year of how they celebrated in his childhood home of Drama.  On the night before, the woman of the house would take ashes from the fireplace and spread them around while chanting spells that would rid of goblins. The next morning, the Fota, residents dressed in animal skins would stand outside churches holding a bag of ashes prepared to ‘hit’ any remaining goblins that left the houses and remained wandering the streets.   He remembers some years when his Yiayia would visit. My Great Grandmother would have him draw a picture of camel to hang in the house. She would explain that this is to remind us, that like the camel, we must be strong and withstand adverse conditions such as hunger and thirst. This was done on either 7th or 8th of January and the picture would usually stay pinned to the wall for weeks to months until it was moved aside for something else.

Not far from Drama, in Kavala, the men all dressed in black with draping goatskins, perform in the streets with bells wrestling until one falls. The fallen leader resurrects and a dance begins. My research tells me that this tradition stems from the shouts the black men warriors of Alexander the Great were able to intimidate persecutors. But Papou says this is incorrect and that it is a remembrance of the death of Dionysus by the Titans and his resurrection, marking the death and hibernation of winter and the wait for the resurrection of spring.



I have read of the Pontus Greeks having the ritual of the Momogeri.   The Momogero with his band of followers, that include two little devils, wander in goatskins and hides with bells, as they go from house to house engaging all in silliness. The height of the ceremony being the kidnapping of a bride and the marriage of the couple fighting the residents in fake battles and clashes. I am determined to someday soon take my son to experience this ceremony and witness it firsthand rather than reading about it.

No tradition however means more to me than my own. I have wonderful memories of celebrating this day almost the same each year.   Around the 4th, we would drive to our village home in Anavisso, spending the evenings drinking hot cocoa, combing deserted beaches, and cuddling in our tiny three-room home around a roaring fire.

The morning of the 6th, as many would in Greece, we awoke early to sing the ‘calenda’ (carols) throughout the main square. This was our third (after Christmas and New Years Eves) and final opportunity to gather money and pad our piggy banks. We practically ran from home to home collecting our coins and the occasional warm drink from the neighbors we knew. The local baker, who lived right atop his fourno (bakery), often gave us kids a sweet snack in addition to a few coins.

 boy ringing bell

We’d return to the cottage, warm up, and then all pile into the car and head to the beach. From Lagonissi to Sounio along the entire Southern coast there were many towns that celebrated with throwing the cross into the sea, but we always opted for going to port of Anavisso. I always begged my mother to allow me to jump into the waters, and finally once I was old enough to participate, I appreciated her reluctance to allowing me to freeze. I only participated twice—would like to have some noble reason for not participating more, but there isn’t other than I wasn’t the best swimmer and it was damned cold!

We’d then go to a local fish tavern meeting all the friends and family that would drive out from Athens for the day. Although I always ordered octopus, the table was full of a variety of fish and other seafood. Being permitted, Coca-Cola on this day made it more special. I would continuously toast with my parents who returned by the cheer with unending glasses of wine.  We all laughed and partied away the last remaining day of vacation days from school.

 Octopus salad

The best part and the most cherished memory for me of this day was how it ended. Just before being put to sleep, my mother, who was born in America, would each year huddle us around the fireplace, while she baked a batch of American style chocolate chip cookies. Still warm from the oven, she’d bring us the plate with a glass of milk. We all sat around the fireplace. I now realize what a labor of love this was, as after such a long day when she must have been very tired, she never failed to bake us these cookies. How difficult it was for her back then to get the ‘real’ chocolate chips bringing them back in a suitcase months before each summer that we visited America.





I would go to bed warm, happy and with a very full stomach—regenerated and ready to begin school and the upcoming year.


Nicolas and Nicolette Kounelis are the husband and wife team who created the blog “The Adventures of Nick and Nicky”. Read more on our About Us page!

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