“Ta Phota” (Epiphany) @ Agia Anna harbour, Naxos | 6 Jan. 2015

The Greek Christmas celebrations conclude with the festival of “Ta Phota” (the Lights) as Epiphany is called, a feast as important as the baptism of Christ. On the Eve of this day, the priest will visit houses and sprinkle holy water to bless them and the family members. This service is known as “ayiasmós”: this is also the name of the holy water which Greeks keep with the family icons. Throughout Greece the Epiphany is celebrated in Byzantine splendour and religious awe.

Churches large and small, are magnificently lit and echo with the joyful melodies of bells. In some larger churches a pair of doves are released from the bell tower. During the ceremony, a cross is thrown in the waters –sea, lakes or rivers– in a ritual that revolves around the Great Blessing of the Waters. An impressive custom follows: any number of volunteers may dive and try to recover the cross. Whoever finds the cross returns it to the priest, who then delivers a special blessing to the swimmer and their household. The celebrations are accompanied by the sweet melodies of the Epiphany carols sung by children. The next day is dedicated to the great feast of St. John the Baptist, when the numerous Johns, Joans or Joannas celebrate their name day.

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