Saturday, 15 August 2015

Xronia Polla on this very special day in the Greek Orthodox Church

The incense hits my nostrils as soon as I enter the church.

We're at the back, listening to the chanting. The candle-style light bulbs in the chandeliers overhead give the interior of this church an ethereal glow. The air conditioning's on and it's much cooler in here than it is outside in the plateia.

Just before nine, big blotches of rain turn into a downpour. The people who, seconds ago were sitting on the kafenion tables around the plateia, huddle inside and under the awning. And then the rain stops, the bells clang and the parade through the village begins.
Up to the next church we go, in one door and out the other side, and then up to the top church and the cemetery. Votive candles glow in the churchyard and people peel off from the parade to pay their respects to family buried in ornate graves.

And the parade returns, past busy tavernas and open-mouthed tourists who can't believe their luck in coming across such an interesting tradition.
We sit outside the kafenion and plates of food arrive, unbidden, at our table.

'You are welcome,' village friends say. 'We have plenty to share.'
In the plateia again and the men shut themselves in the syllogos to mix the sperna, a concoction of boiled wheat, raisins, almonds, sugar, pepper, aniseed and cinnamon. Known in some regions as koliva, this ritual food is meant to symbolise death and resurrection.
Earlier in the day, the wheat slowly softened as it bubbled away in great cauldrons on fires built in the school's covered play area.
Now, it's the women's turn as the doors to the syllogos open. They gather around the table and make quick work of bagging up the sperna, ready for the church service in the morning.
It's the Festival of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, one of the most holy of holy days in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Today, the church is full and hot - no air conditioning on - as the congregation comes and goes throughout the service. After two hours, the man goes up the ladder to clang the bells one more time.
The people emerge from the church with sprigs of basil and bags of sperna. The collection plate is taken around the plateia for donations from those who have missed that part of the service. And then sperna from a large basket is distributed.
Children and adults tuck in.
There are smiles, kisses and hugs. Girls and women stroll around in smart clothes usually reserved for Sunday best. An old man beams and makes a beeline for us to shake our hands.
'Xronia polla,' he says, the greeting for the day, which literally means 'many years'.

We feel privileged to be part of this very special village on this very special day.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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