Theophany or Epiphany closes the twelve-days of Christmas, which began on Christmas Eve and was celebrated through various customs. Everything is ready at the holy churches of Zakynthos for the blessed celebration of the Sanctification and Epiphany, recalling the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River in which the priest sanctifies the water with blessings, the invocation of the Holy Spirit and triple baptism of the Holy Cross in the water. This year however, will be completely different as the religious ceremonies will be preformed behind closed doors, covid-19 has made it impossible for gatherings. So, this year Zakynthians will be celebrating at home but their traditions will still be kept alive.
Beyond the ritual of Epiphany, every church is adorned with twigs of bitter-oranges, leaves of bitter-oranges and sword-shaped leaves from plants , the tradition is brought into the churches and homes as they say it was these that grew along the banks of the Jordan River.
Also, on the day of Epiphany the chandeliers are decorated with bunches of bitter-oranges and oranges, but also some icons inside the church are decorated with the leaves from the fruit bearing tree. Even the faithful place, on the stand that has been set up within the church and where the ritual of the sanctification will take place, bunches of oranges, to be baptized by the priests.
The priests, holding in their hands the Cross and sanctuaries,
which are made up of flowers: lavender, daffodils, chrysanthemums and bitter-orange leaves, following established standards, invoking Gods blessing, proceed to the Blessing of the water.
In the Iconostasis
In the celebration of Epiphany, another custom is to decorate the icons. In the iconostasis of the house, with bitter-orange leaves. In the central icon a bitter-orange is placed, which stays there until the morning of ‘Kathari Deftera’ / Shrove Monday. Then they take it out and drink the juice, for sore throats. In celebration of Epiphany, the Zakynthians who are going to church take with them a bunch of oranges, which is dunked into the sanctified water, to be blessed.
On the Eve
On the eve of Epiphany, after the morning service where the Great Sanctuary takes place separately the priests, accompanied by the verger and priests-aids, visit the homes of the parishioners and holding the Cross and sanctuaries, carry the blessing of God, chanting “in the flow of the Jordan today …” and sprinkles the house with holy water.
The strange procession
A strange procession (litany) takes place on the eve of Epiphany, in Zakynthos. At 8 pm at the end of Matins, which takes place in the afternoon, with a special procession, which is preceded by the band, the clergy, the authorities and people of the island carry the bishop from the metropolitan church of Agios Nikolaos the ‘Ksenon’ and the Holy Baptist to the Metropolitan Mansion.
There, a multi-members choir says Epiphany carols and he (the bishop) addresses the people with festive greetings, from the balcony. After, everyone goes up and wishes him and he gives them sweets. This is possibly what a foreign traveller saw and wrote that the Zakynthians have processions for all their saints and when there are no more, they have a procession for their bishop.
The different Sanctification
In Zakynthos, during the ceremony of sanctification of the waters on the day of the Epiphany, the Cross is not thrown into the sea but “baptized” by the local Bishop, mounted on a long pole. Also there is a scarf, tied with a thread, with which they wash their eyes, in order not to suffer any illness. The Zakynthians, faithful to their customs and multiple peculiarities of their island, do not easily accept changes. So when, the first non-Ionian Islands bishop, Chrysostomos Dimitriou, one time wanted to change the custom and not listening to anyone (as a bishop) threw the Cross into the sea with a ribbon, all the Zakynthians shouted mockingly: “Are they biting, bishop? Are they biting?” An image reminiscent of fishing. Since then the custom came back and the peculiarity continues.
New Year’s Eve is just round the corner and every Zakynthian home is preparing for the welcoming of the New Year.
Early in morning the children will go from home to home to sing the New Year’s carol and send a wish that Ai Vassilis will come and bring your most desired. For it is that night that Santa Claus as we know him will visit every home throughout Greece.
Tradition for New Year is based on re-birth and the superstitions that go with the traditions vary from place to place around Greece.
Zakynthos’ tradition is to collect pinecones on New Year’s eve and bring them into the home, others bring in pomegranates to split open on the change of the hour from the old to the new.
As the New Year enters you will often see adults handing over coins to young children as a sign of prosperity.
The adults will try their luck in a game of cards, the most common game being 21 or blackjack. Whoever wins the most will be lucky throughout the year, at least economically, so they say.
Vasilopita.... not Zakynthian
As far as cutting the Vasilopita, again I must stress that this is not the Zakynthian tradition. The Island officially had the ceremony on Christmas Eve cutting the Zakynthian kouloura (Christmas bun). However, as I have mention traditions change over the years. The Vasilopita has made its way into many Zakynthian homes. The lucky coin in the piece that someone has is said to bring them luck throughout the year. Much the same as to what happens at the Christmas table on Christmas Eve. Of course, it goes without saying gun shots are fired to rejoice the event.
The dish of the day
New Year’s day, an aroma of traditional cooking within Zakynthian homes. The favourite dish is Rooster. Cooked in a tomato based sauce finished with Zakynthian local cheese. It is served with thick spaghetti the one that is shaped like a tube.
Even superstitions prevail on this day. The so called ‘pothariko tis protoxronias’. Many believe that those who are first to enter your home will bring the outcome of whether your home will have luck or bad luck. They say that a child so innocent and pure is the best luck of all that your home can bring. So be careful who enters your home on New Year’s day. It’s he/she who will decide on your fate for the year.
It certainly is going to be a different New year celebration this year but one thing is for sure, the Zakynthian traditions will definitely be part of every Zakynthian home.
We are pleased to announce that Zakynthos Flower of the East has been scheduled for publication in June 2021, with Ionian Publishing! The book will be in both English and Greek, paperback and ebook formats. The current book description is as follows:
Zakynthos Flower of The East
We think we now the Greek island of Zakynthos and yet the modern, tourist island of today only gives visitors a small, tantalising glimpse of what was once a grand and historically important place.
So, how did Zakynthos become the place it is today? With over a thousand years of history, traditions and culture to discover, Zakynthos not only had a wealthy and aristocratic past, but at times a treacherous and murderous one too; it was occupied by many nations, plundered by pirates and invaded during World War Two. Its interesting seismic events and geological phenomena that has cretan a stunningly beautiful landscape, only add to a remarkable history that has not only influenced its people, but also shaped the island into the tourist haven it is today.
With culture and traditions that are very different to the rest of Greece, Zakynthos Flower of the East is the story of the bygone eras of the Greek island of Zakynthos, as seen through the eyes of its history and those who lived through exciting and turbulent centuries. From history to archaeology, notable people to important sites, this will be the most comprehensive book ever written about Zakynthos, transporting readers though the centuries, from Myth and Legend, up to modern times.
Chrissie Parker and Louise Inzk
It’s almost three years since coming up with the idea of creating a history book about Zakynthos, and a year and half since we began writing it. Writing a book like this is neither easy, nor straightforward, it has taken a lot of hard work, dedication and time. We know that everyone's desperate to read it, and we can’t wait to finish writing it so it can be sent for editing and proofing.
A book like this can’t be rushed though, and even though we’ve had a set plan for the type of book we want to write and its contents, many discoveries have been made whilst researching it that meant we needed to add many new sections and chapters.
Between us we've read over two hundred documents, many of them hundreds of pages long. We've visited archive centres and museums, requested rare manuscripts from libraries around the world, and we’ve also had to translate text from Greek, French, German, Italian into English. Whilst we still don’t want to give too much away at present, what we can tell you is that the book will cover the following subjects relating to Zakynthos:
- Churches and Monasteries
- Culture and Tradition
- Geography and Geology
- Historical sites
- Notable people
- Zakynthian food recipes
The content we have for Zakynthos Flower of the East will make a rich, exciting and informative read that will send readers back in time to discover an island they never knew existed. It’s a completely different and interesting island that we’ve both completely fallen in love with discovering, and we’ve enjoyed every single second of this research and writing journey.
All we have to do is finish writing the final few sections, then it can go to our editor who’s eagerly awaiting it!
Thanks for your patience and we will update you with more information very soon!
Many of you have been asking “how long will it be before I can buy the book?” We’d love to be able to give you an exact date but it’s a little bit like how long is a piece of string?
The book's currently about 85-90% written, most of the main text is done, with a few sections left to complete. We’re also still waiting for some research documents, so we can add some extra information and fact check.
We also have a few trips planned to various places such as archives, museums and specific institutions, which is required for a couple of important chapters.
One of the things we’ve discovered whilst writing the book is that even though we initially planned the book content and finalised the index quite early on, we’ve actually had to expand it. This means we had to add more chapters and sections as we’ve uncovered some really interesting things that definitely need to be in the book! Quite a few of those unexpected things have surprised us both and were very excited about out discoveries.
We hope that the first full draft of the book will be completed soon (no date as yet) and once that’s done the book will then have to go through the following process:
As you can see, there’s still a lot of work ahead for both us and the publication team, but we’re working really hard to bring it to you as soon as we can. Thanks for your patience we're both really enjoying writing this book and we hope to have more news soon!
A few years ago Chrissie decided, after releasing a fictional book set on Zakynthos, that she would like to write a factual book about the island, covering not only the resort information, but also the history and interesting places to visit on the island.
After a year of trying to plan it, she approached Louise and asked her if she would co-author it with her. Louise's knowledge of the island, its culture and tradition is endless and Chrissie wanted to share this writing journey with her, as she knew that Louise would make the best writing partner for this project, and didn't want to share it with any other author.
So, in 2018 Chrissie asked Louise to join her, Louise said yes, and now they are joint co-authors of the book. It doesn't matter where the journey started, it's about the writing journey itself and where it ends, and Chrissie and Louise are having a great time working together, discovering lots of new information about the island and its history and it's very much a joint, team effort.
Many people have commented over time that due to the Great Ionian Earthquake of 1953, much, if not all information on the island was lost, and with it the history of Zakynthos. After reading over hundred documents and books (to date), and speaking with a number of Museums, experts and establishments, Chrissie and Louise have realised however, that Zakynthos' history was never lost or destroyed, it had merely become hidden in various places around the world, waiting to be pieced together, and that is what they are doing.