Customs and Traditions of Halkidiki, Greece
The Halkidiki peninsula in northern Greece has much to offer in the way of customs and traditions. Many of these customs are associated with religious feasts, others have been handed down through time and yet others have been brought more recently by the refugees from Asia Minor.
Religious: In Agios Prodromos, in the central region of Halkidiki, on the eve of the Epiphany the young people go from house to house singing the traditional songs for that occasion. Even today, the girls sing the Lazaria songs for the feast day of Lazarus.
In Ierissos, on the eastern side approaching Mt.Athos, on Palm Sunday, the brides who have been married for less than a year climb the hill above the village to pick myrtles with which to decorate the church.
At Poligiros, the capital town of the region, the carnival for the last day before Lent includes the ‘katamania’, meaning ‘come and eat free’. The locals serve homemade produce, pies, sausages and olives and there is general merriment.
Then there is the ‘parakami’ – People collect brushwood and dry branches for forty days before the event. They form teams and on the 28th June they each set up a tall trunk of a hewn plane-tree in a deep pit and pile it up with the collected wood. The idea is to get the tallest pile and try and sabotage their opponents by setting fire to their pile. This is followed by singing, dancing, feasting and lots of fun.
Ancient The ‘helidonismata or swallow singing’ occurs on March lst. On the eve, young children collect sprigs of ivy which they put on gold decorated swallows nests. On the day, the children take their nests from house to house singing the swallow song and receiving gifts of money and eggs.
Refugee/Turkish Occupation: The Sardine Feast occurs during the first fortnight of July in Nea Moudania. The event commemorates the refugees from Asia Minor who resettled in the areas of Halkidiki.
In Galatista on the 6th and 7th of January there is the custom of the Camel and the Bride dating back to the Turkish occupation. It is based on the abduction of a pretty girl by the village Aga who wanted to include her in his harem. The young Greek men decided to steal her back so they made a camel in which some of them hid while the others danced around it having fun. In this manner they were allowed freely to roam the village until eventually, they located where the girl had been hidden and freed her.
The next day they whisked her off to wed her sweetheart. These days the ceremony starts on Epiphany and the young people dress in traditional costumes and dance to the music of pipes and drums after which there is feasting and merriment. On the second day, there is a revival of the wedding ceremony, so it is one long round of fun and frolicking.
In the central highland region of Arnaia, they have the ‘kotsmanos’. Under Turkish rule this was celebrated on the Wednesday after Easter. The men dressed in the local costume carrying muskets and would ride to the chapel where they would attend a service. After this they would fire their guns at a target consisting of an egg dyed red and hung from the highest tree, this was followed by feasting. This provided them with good target practice which otherwise was not allowed under the strict Turkish regime.
These are but a sample of the many customs and traditions that Halkidiki has which are thankfully kept alive or rekindled by the various cultural associations throughout the area. These associations take pride in the promotion of their heritage and these traditions are a delight for the visitor to see and partake in.