Theophaneia - Epiphany
On the stroke of January 6th, the "twelve days" of Christmas officially come to an end. This day, takes on a special meaning in Greece. Here, there is a special ceremony of blessing the waters and of the vessels that ply them.
The modern observance at Piraeus, the ancient port of Athens, takes the form of a priest hurling a large crucifix into the waters. Young men brave the cold and compete to retrieve it. These days, the cross is generally attached to a nice, safe long chain, just in case that year's crop of divers is something less than desired.
What does all this have to do with Christmas? Orthodox belief says that it was the day of the baptism of Jesus, and that this is where the day's association with water arises.
But the observance itself may pre-date Christianity. There was, in Roman times, what was said to be a ceremony that opened the season of navigation. However, as any Greek fisherman can tell you, whatever the date of the opening of the season of navigation really is, it definitely is not January 6th, when weather can be stormy and the waters are at their coldest.
The day is also said to be the date of a festival of emperor-worship, also dating from Roman times. Possibly that, with attendant offerings for the emperor, is the root of this ceremony. Or it may also reflect a survival of the custom of giving precious offerings to sea, river, and spring spirits to assure their benevolence or halt their interference. On Epiphany, the kallinkantzari, the malicious spirits who are said to be active during the twelve days of Christmas, are believed to be banished for the rest of the year.
Epiphany is also called the Phota or Fota, in reference to the day being a Feast of Light, and it is also the saint's day for Agia Theofana.
While the biggest observance is at Piraeus, many islands and villages offer smaller versions of the event. It is definitely still a traditional holiday, performed by Greeks for themselves, not for tourists. (At least we try!!! hehehe!)
- In Greek, the name Theophaneia (Θεοφάνεια) means God appears.
- The name Theophaneia orginated as an Greek name.
- The name Theophaneia is most often used as a girl name or female name
The old tradition, today!
The celebrations throughout the Twelve days of Christmas, called Dodekaimera, period until Epiphany, (6th January), end on Epiphany day where Greek Christmas celebrations conclude with the feast called “Ta Phota” meaning “The Lights”.
In the Orthodox Church this feast is important as the baptism of Christ. On the Eve of this day the priest would go round all houses and perform “ayiasmos” sprinkle holy water to bless the houses and all those who live there.
It is believed that this visit by the priest would expel the “kallikantzari” who leave before they can finish sawing the world’s foundations. Years back children would pass from the houses singing Phota kalanta but these traditions do not appear any more in the big towns where parents are afraid to let their children knock on doors of people they do not know and trust but in some villages these traditions still exist.
Kallikantzari, which are malevolent goblins, in Greek and Cypriot folklore tradition, would get out of the depth of earth, where they usually live and their job is to destroy the trunk of the tree, where earth sits on, so that it can collapse and when it is ready to collapse they get out and would stroll around in the dark, to torture people in many ways.
When we were kids and heard stories told about them we were scared to death. Kallikantzari, were described to us as ugly creatures, partly human and partly animal, having horns and tails, goat shaped beards, skinny or fat, short or tall, either getting into houses from the chimneys, steeling food, or urinating on food and mostly playing tricks on people.
In the villages, superstitious housewives would seal the chimneys and any holes in the doors and windows so that Kallikantzari couldn’t get in. They would throw pieces of meat, sausages or doughnuts on the roof, to keep them occupied and not get in the houses.
On the Eve of Theophaneia, (which means appearance of God) or Phota (which means The Lights) as Epiphany is called, the priest would pass from all the houses, sprinkling holy water to bless the people living there and the kallikantzari would be expelled to go back sawing the trunk holding the foundations of earth, until the next Christmas.
Theophaneia (Epiphany) at Acheloos River Greece
On the day of Epiphany there is the great “Ayiasmos” (the word also refers to the holy water itself), service in the church, some of that water is kept with the family icons and is believed to have healing properties. After the service in church all people are gathered wherever there are ports, rivers or lakes, even swimming pools and the priest throws the cross into the water, even if the temperature is below 0 C and a few young men and brave girls will dive in to retrieve it - the one who catches the cross is considered to be blessed for all the year.
Theophaneia (Epiphany) - Neoi Epivates - Thessaloniki 1
Theophaneia (Epiphany) - Neoi Epivates - Thessaloniki 2
Happy Theophaneia Everybody!