Active and historical Kefalonian customs during the Christmas period

The word custom refers to the common habit of a social group that comes from and is followed by tradition, and at the same time does not regulate the events of this group. In fact, the custom is deeply rooted in the popular soul and its manifestation is between habit, fashion and law.

The customary act has the power to exercise absolute and permanent power over the social whole, in addition to contributing to every form of character such as religious, racial and social. The custom has enforcement power due to the moral compulsion that imposes on individuals to comply with the unwritten rules of its execution.

Their customs and laws are unwritten elements and are passed down from generation to generation along with language and religion and over time, they change, change, “mutate”, are lost, new ones are born, old ones are forgotten. All these changes are therefore a natural evolution, because the social structures – the pre-eminent bodies of the customs – change and evolve, “dragging” the unwritten customary social laws.

Customs are divided into two main groups: the social and the religious. To the former belong the customs that regulate the relations between the social classes and are the customs that refer to hospitality, exchange of wishes, etc. To the latter belong the matters related to the worship of God. This separation, however, is not absolute, because many customs belong to both categories.

The Kefalonian tradition in all expressions of life and everyday life has a number of customary acts, which are famous and even regulate, as in any place, the character and mentality of our society as a whole, as well as the listening and fame of our region.

The Kefalonian customs of the Twelfth Day, as they have been handed down to us by the ancient folklorists, were varied, rich in their performances and famous.

The following is a comparative reference to the customs of our island (Of the Twelve Days) from those which we found written as important folk customs representations that have been completely lost and to those that are still functional, at the same time to the reasons that modified or evolved them.

Of course, in folklore there is no “lost or modified custom”, because each era simply modifies what it found in the past and walks with its own characteristics, which are constantly evolving daily. That is, the custom evolves and follows the evolution of humanity.

The distinction made in this article, in the customs of the Kefalonian Twelfth Day, in what was lost and in what is preserved, is made because abrupt social and economic changes have taken place and are taking place, which have contributed and continue to contribute to the change of customs, as well as world history. events, such as the 1953 earthquake, immigration, rapid technological development, that affect our lives drastically.

1. Goblins

Starting the report first from the Kalikatzaros, the Paganas as we call them on our island, these are traditions with a pan-Hellenic character, the ancient Kefalonians believed in the existence of these “demonic weeds”, which in the form of werewolves or witches, bothered them so they took the proper precautions from them. Storing food, washing household utensils before dusk, and packing them early in the main house was essential to prevent them from being cooked by goblins.

Of course, the structure of homes and social situations was different a few decades ago. Poverty a lot, hard years and the cooking of the houses most of the time rough, under tin, exposed in the open, a little far from the house and therefore according to the custom they should not leave the pots outside during the Twelve Days to infect them the pagans. Also, do not go out at night, especially the men, who were returning from the taverns, because when they came home they believed that the pagans came in with them, so they lit a fire before entering to banish the evil.

Before the earthquake, most of the houses had their chimney, “the chimney” and in order to prevent the pagans from entering the house from this point, the housewives put a crease (sieve) in the opening of the chimney, which prevented them from passing. In fact, they say that the pagans were busy measuring the sieve holes, but they were confused or could not say “three” and lost their time.

The pagans and all these stories and many more like them, today we laugh at them or we have forgotten them, because, simply, the social situations changed and education became the property of more people.

Nevertheless, the custom of protection from pagans is maintained in the habit of “sealing” the doors, marking our lintel with the point of the cross with a lighted candle to drive away evil.

Behind all these superstitions, regardless of whether they are historical or metaphysical, hides man’s old anguish for the darkness, for winter. This is the reason why the old housewives, while marking the doors with the flame, making the sign of the cross, said:

“Jesus is born,

the light is worth it

and the darkness diminishes. “

2. The bun of the corner

An old custom, which has its roots in antiquity, the Greek and Roman, was the focal ceremony of Christmas Eve, called “the Bun of the corner”. It was a custom that combined the baking of the festive bread and the chanting of the Christmas apolytic.

The family gathered around the hearth of the house, the fire, which they had lit with three logs, and the mother brought a freshly baked round bun, sealed with the holy seal, and inside she had put a coin. The eldest of the house would take her, the father usually, cut her into pieces as many as the members of the family and then let everyone catch her over the fire in a circle. The father took oil and wine and threw it around the bun to fall crosswise on the fire. Then everyone chanted the Christmas card and at the end everyone pulled the bun from the place where he was holding it and so he took his piece and looked to see if the coin would happen to him, if he was lucky ..

This was “the breaking of Kouloura”. This custom was described in detail by the great historian Elias Tsitselis in 1889. However, it seems that this custom disappeared after 1954, a year that took place in the area of ​​Livathos, as the folklorist Dimitrios Loukatos informs us.

Today it can not be revived, for many different reasons, with him first, that in our homes there are no hobs-corners as in the past, but electric cookers and similar appliances for cooking our food. Because this custom was strictly family-oriented and not open to the world, it could not be revived folklorically, but even if it did, it would only be in a descriptive display.

In 2016, the Cultural Association “Rifortso” filmed the customary representation of “Kouloura tis gonias” and advertised this beautiful visual presentation, both on the island and in other parts of Greece.

3. The breads of the Twelfth Day

During the Twelfth Day, as defined by its three major festivals, Christmas, New Year and Lights, festive tables were adorned with breads of different shapes at the top, which were made to fit the day and emphasize the ritual of the table. In Kefalonian folklore the breads of the three great feasts of the Twelfth Day were different in shape.

The big bread of Christmas day, the Christmas bread or tsoudi, looked like a mandolin with two handles, as Loukatos says, or rather it looked like a boat or an athemonia tied at its ends. Later this type was abandoned and they made a big ball of bread, like a big loaf which at the top was decorated with a big X, with its edges turned, which looked like fish tails.

The Santa Claus, the New Year’s bread, was a bun, which looked like a wheel and there was a big cross diagonally across it.

The festive bread of the Lights, the so-called fotitsa, was special. It was a round loaf, like a plate with its surroundings raised and in the center there was a cross that in every right corner was a ball.

The three different breads of the Twelfth Day celebrations in Kefalonia are also mentioned by Andreas Laskaratos in his poem “To Lixouri in 1836”

“Aren’t those Christians Christians too?”

Don’t they make Christmas bread themselves?

They do not make light for Fotone,

And the saints – King, what queens? “

Today, the types of old Kefalonian bread are not made on our island during the Twelfth Day period, but a type is presented and sold on the shelves of bakeries for the three holidays, the one that looks like a big loaf, decorated with a big X, with the its edges. The bakers also make another type of festive bread that its decoration seems to have elements from ancient times. That is, they decorate the surface of the large loaf with semicircles, so that they form a flower, a rose.

4. The carols

The Kefalonian carols, of Christmas and New Year have not been lost from the life of the Kefallinians. They present from place to place a wide variety of different verses, especially the part with the greetings, to which the little carol singers added something new and praiseworthy for each householder in order to attract a bigger tip.

The carols on our island are first divided into the old carols, which were different for the three feasts of the Twelfth Day. In fact, in these carols, which were released in single sheets in 1854 by the Printing Office

“Kefallinia” there are additional radical lyrics that characterize the desire of the people of Kefallinia for Union with Mother Greece.

Here are carols, what they usually said in the villages, and in fact we find them in the reports of various travelers. And we come to today’s carols which have elements from the past, are sung today mainly by children but also by choirs of our place and scatter us joy. Their rhythm is like a flint and even when the voices are accompanied by mandolins, guitars and triangles, you are happy to hear them. Also, the Argostoli carols are different from the Lixouri carols, but both nearby motifs are sung polyphonically and in Ionian.

The carols that have been completely forgotten, are of the Lights. Although the feast of Lights is beyond ecclesiastical, very secular, it is questionable how they are not sung by young and old.

It is obvious that the carols were preserved, for the main reason that they bring financial benefit to those who perform them.

“I wish you a happy new year

To give you the groom and the marriage.


Give us the rooster, give us the hen,

Give us the bonama, let’s go to another door “.

5. Lotteries and games and various happy events

The ways of the old lottery have changed, while gambling is preserved, operations that took place during the Twelfth Day, due to the coming of the New Year, that everyone wanted to be lucky to have a good year.

Laskaratos in his texts satirizes and at the same time informs us about the unbridled gambling that took place when the New Year dawned in his time.

Also, the traditional custom of New Year’s food has been completely forgotten, which was Poutrida, ie pork with kavole (cauliflower) or mapa (cabbage) or sip in the pot. At meal time they cut the queen and ate a few sprigs of pomegranate for good.

The children go from house to house and offer for a fee the queens (the wild onion plant – Askinikara or Askylokara), which symbolizes the rebirth of nature and time.

The presence of the philharmonic orchestra, the cantadores, the custom of interacting with perfumes and small sprayers are among the customary performances that are preserved to this day or have been revived in recent decades.

We also maintain the customs of the good foot, the bonama and avoid borrowing money on holidays, as well as not to cry, not to be upset, but to do something good or some good work to run well all year round.

On New Year’s Eve the children played various games in the neighborhood, that is, their own gambling, with pennies and drachmas. Toys that have been completely forgotten, such as: the patrino, the wall, the pits, the nailing of the orange, that whoever knew how to nail his franc and pierce the orange with the first one, took it as his own.

6. Greeting acts for good economy in the life of the village

In the villages they attached great importance to poultry, poultry and in general the value of their animals, and this, because they were the basis for the household economy.

So they demanded from the strangers who visited the house, to say in these yearly days the wish:

“Eggs, birds, everything, and no clue”

That is, a lot of cages to come out and the eggs to never be cages.

Also, when the New Year came, the housewife who had a shepherd man would leave the house to meet him in the sheepfold and bring him a well-kneaded queen and wine and he in turn would break it on the horns of the ram or the goat saying:

“A thousand years, a thousand goats or a thousand sheep”

These two customs that supported the village life, have finally disappeared and have remained memories in the experiences of the ancients.

7. The orange forearm

This custom of “Portuguese, adorned with cloves (carnations)” was old, and it seems that some people invented it so that they could get a tip, since they could not sing the carols, due to their busy schedule at the time. Lukatos tells us that the custom of the precursor orange was a custom of “decent begging”.

They simply suggested the orange with cloves to the one they met, they called it “Happy Birthday” and he gave the tip. The historian Elias Tsitselis mentions that this custom was old, he described it in 1910 and says that it was a custom of poor children, beggars, and young women.

There is another version, that this custom was not invented by the villagers, but by the children of the sailors, “trading” in this way the spices brought by the father-sailor, materials that were expensive and for a few.

Whatever this custom may be, with the wonderful wish that the offer or gives the orange “May God give you strength like the juices of the life-giving orange”, it has been revived in the city of Lixouri since 1995, by school students and children of clubs.

8. The customs of Baptism

The third feast of the Twelfth Day is the Epiphany or the Lights, which together with the feasts of the Sanctification of Saint John are a three-day event of the feast of the waters.

The ecclesiastical customs of these days are preserved for the most part, due to which they follow the liturgical standard of our Orthodox Church.

At the dawn of Agiasmos, the night service is held in the churches and after dawn the priest, accompanied by a child, begins to sanctify the houses.

In the old figures of the priests are left the images of the child holding the metal circle and the priest dipping his sanctuary in it and then sprinkling the houses. The money given by the faithful, as usual in metal, used to be thrown into the cycle. This is now seldom maintained. The tip is collected differently, either in a large wallet or in a bag.

In the past, something happened in Kefalonia that did not happen in other parts of Greece. They had the right to go out with the siklaki or the big pigeon, groups of children (grandparents) without the accompaniment of the pope and to sanctify the houses and shops, chanting “in Jordan”. It was like saying the carols in the papal way, Dimitrios Loukatos tells us. As for the amount of Agiasmos, close to decreasing, they supplemented the oyster from the fountain or the well of the neighborhood. Their purpose was to get a good tip.

The carols of the Lights are no longer heard, there are very few cases when one or two groups come out to sing them. These were forgotten we would say completely.

On the day of the Lights in the churches of the parishes the Baptism is performed, on a park with greenery and palm branches, elaborately made and carefully, to receive the pigeons of the faithful, which after the representation of the Divine Baptism by the priest, the faithful will receive sanctification. Unfortunately, in most churches the parks are simple and sketchy, without the old beautiful decoration, which prepared you for the ritual of Enlightenment. One of the most elaborate parks that the pastors and commissioners continue to create according to the old tradition, is the parish of Agios Nikolaos of Miniata in Lixouri.

After the Baptism in the churches follows the “big ceremony” in the sea or in the fountain of the place. Both in Argostoli and Lixouri, the Baptism ceremony has been held for a long time in the port of the cities. But also in ports, such as Pessada, Poros, Katelios, Sami, on the beach of Petana baptisms are performed with the participation of many believers.

Fotitsa, the festive bread of the day of Lights, with the magnificent Byzantine cross decorated at the top, has been completely lost and has been replaced by the type of bread, which is common to all holidays as we said above.

In conclusion, the customs of the Twelfth Day in Kefalonia, have decreased, some have been permanently lost and others are preserved and executed with newer elements, which is required by our time.

Source – Γεράσιμος Σωτ. Γαλανός

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