Actually, Greek traditions aren't a piece of cake.
|Olive harvest at our house - a treasured tradition|
But it was a piece of traditional cake that made me think more deeply about those customs and rituals that have played out in our adopted country for ages; yet they make up our new experiences as expats - sometimes in such rapid succession that we can't keep up with them. The deep-rooted rituals and layers of symbolism at times simply boggle the mind.
|Roasting chestnuts at Kastania's Chestnut Festival - a local tradition|
Take this week, for example: It began with two full days of the ages-old tradition of olive harvest. They were followed by the Feast Day of Agios Dimitrios (Saint Dimitrios) and the Name Day celebration of all those named for him. By week's end we were among those celebrating Chestnut Festival in the village a few miles away, named Kastania, after the nut.
Traditions: Celebrating Our Saint
|The Stone House on the Hill above Agios Dimitrios|
At the base of the hill on which our Stone House on the Hill is built sits the village of Agios Dimitrios. Its church carries the same name. Agios Dimitrios is the Patron Saint of the city of Thessaloniki, and he is celebrated on Oct. 26th because that is the day that city was liberated from Ottoman rule after five centuries of occupation.
Now Thessaloniki is a large city to our east - an hour's flight from the Kalamata Airport so you may be wondering why we were celebrating it in a small fishing village tucked away among olive groves on the other side of the Peloponnese. Well, it turns out he is also the patron of agriculture, peasants and shephards in the Greek countryside. . .
So, it stands to reason that we would celebrate his day in the church in the village that both carry his name even if located miles from Thessaloniki. Similar celebrations were taking place throughout the country. Those who are named for saints, in this case, the Dimitris, and Dimitras of the world also celebrate as it is their Name Day, a day as special as their birth date.
|Pappas Paniotis our village priest|
We nodded to friends and neighbors as we stood together outside the already crowded small church and listened to the sermon delivered by our village priest, Pappas Paniotis. It didn't matter that it was in Greek. Anyone who has ever said The Lord's Prayer regularly knows when it is being offered, no matter the language. And that part of the service we did understand!
|Enormous loaves of bread were served|
While listening to the service, we watched several ladies from the village setting up tables in the church yard with plates of sweets and packets of bread (that would be taken home by attendees). When it seemed there couldn't possibly be more to eat, they brought out the cakes. Not just any cakes, mind you, but the Koliva. Little did we know the significance of this beautiful cake.
Traditions: A Piece of Cake
|Koliva, the traditional cake, placed to honor Agios Dimitrios|
At the time it was presented, blessed and served I thought this cake was one of the most beautifully, decorated I had ever seen. Such simple ingredients made beautiful decorations. They included pomegranate seeds, almonds, pistachios, and decorations made of sugar. Several explained as it was being served that it is traditionally made for celebrations honoring the dead but that it is also used to celebrate life occasions like harvest and marriage.
|A piece of traditional cake|
When I was handed the small cup of sugared nuts and fruits, I was surprised to learn that was what had been beneath that beautifully decorated icing. It was quite a tasty mix of cooked wheat berries, nuts, raisins, pomegranate seeds with some chopped parsley and coated with a sweet mixture of sugar and spiced breadcrumbs.
|The alter in Agios Dimitrios church|
It wasn't after the celebration ended that I learned each item in it symbolized some aspect of the life cycle: life, death and rebirth. The wheat kernels a symbol of hope and resurrection, nuts for fertility, spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cumin, for a life well lived, the parsley a peaceful rest, pomegranate for an afterlife of brilliance and wealth, the breadcrumbs representing the soil.
|Celebrating Agios Dimitrios in the village that carries his name|
The cake is not an easy one to make, requiring two days to cook and dry the wheat berries and prepare the other ingredients. It was so tasty and now that I know its story, I appreciate its significance and symbolism even more than its taste. We wanted our expat experience to be one of learning about other cultures and traditions, so far, Greece hasn't let us down!
|The village from the church - both Agios Dimitrios|
That's it for this time, as we are heading out to learn about a few more traditions before the month of October gets away from us. As always thanks for your time and a big welcome to our new subscribers.
And a note to all subscribers: my Blogger program and Mailchimp that sends your emails haven't communicated lately. I'm hoping this one arrives in your inbox. If it does and you can spare a minute to email me and let me know, I'd greatly appreciate it! And there should be a link at the bottom of your email to take you to last week's post about our adopted city of Kalamata should you like to read it as well!
Safe travels to you and yours~
Wonderful to read about these special traditions. And that cake! Beautiful! I was surprised to read that it had parsley in it, so I'm glad you explained the symbolism.ReplyDelete