Traveling Classroom Foundation
Friday September 22nd 2017

Greek Festival

Since our arrival on Paros, the temperature has been climbing and the wind diminishing. Our friend Lambis says it is much worse in Athens, where people have died of heat stroke. We are thankful the sea is only about 60 feet from our door, which gives us the option of jumping into the water several times a day to cool ourselves.

To avoid the worst of it, we go into Parikia during the morning hours to do any necessary shopping in the agora and farmers’ market. Today, we started in the usual way, hiking along the sea cliff trail. It is the shortest route to town, but my least favorite. Not far from our apartment, the trail turns into Ayia Anna bay, where winter storms gnaw away a bit more cliff each year. The path is only a foot wide at some places – and I have a fear of heights.

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Duane negotiates narrow footpath along cliff

The path widens again and continues up a pine-covered hillside towards the Demos (town hall) and the little church of Ayia Anna (Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary). When we reach the church, we see colorful flags strung across the platia (square) and workers whitewashing the grout between flagstones all the way down the stone stairs into the town below. In Greece, fresh whitewash is always a sign of a religious event. Duane stops and asks if their work is for a festival, and they confirm it is for Ayia Anna. Every Orthodox church is named for a saint, and the saint’s day is grounds for a big celebration. We see a poster in town announcing the time of the festival, and decide it would be interesting to attend.

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Ayia Anna church with flags and whitewash

Later that evening, we dress for dinner (trousers and dress, instead of shorts) and repeat our hike along the sea cliff into town. When we reach Ayia Anna (at about sunset), we see the religious part of the celebration has already begun.

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Ayia Anna religious service begins

A beautiful liturgy is sung over an amplifier, because the tiny church does not begin to accommodate the hundred-or-so people seated and standing around the stone platia outside. As new people arrive, they stop to kiss a beautiful antique icon of Ayia Anna placed on a stand outside the door of the church. It is tradition to venerate icons at the entrance of an Orthodox church. However, it is improper to kiss the saint’s face. Several yards away is a table heaped with huge loaves of holy bread (antidoron) – an important part of the ceremony (which usually involves bread, oil and wine).

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Stacked bread loaves for the ceremony

After listening for a while (the service is longer than expected), we continue down the hill, taking the stone stairs to the Paroikia waterfront. We find a table on the sidewalk in front of our favorite Italian restaurant, and order a light meal from the menu.  Folk music drifts down from Ayia Anna while we eat, and we are eager to be on our way. After dinner, we join a stream of people walking up the hill to the church, and discover a much larger crowd has gathered.

Islanders of every age, from toddlers to elderly people leaning on canes, gather around the platia. The center of the square is given over to musicians and folk dancers from all over the island. The mood is festive – in the true Greek sense of the word – with cheering for the dancers and musicians, and laughing with complete strangers, and tasty snacks being passed around, and giggling children darting through the crowd.

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With nightfall, the festival turns to music and dancing

The dancers wear traditional island clothing, which was common up to the early years of the last century. The girls and women wear an underskirt, a white chemise, a skirt of brightly-colored fabric, an embroidered bodice and the bolia or headscarf. The boys and men wear the traditional black vraka – a kind of baggy trousers – shirt, sleeveless jacket and sash. With all that clothing, it is amazing they can dance so energetically in the warm evening air. I notice one dancer sitting on a stone ledge recovering from her last performance.

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A tired dancer rests after a performance

The music and dancing seems to get faster as the hours pass. Suddenly, without warning, rockets begin to shoot into the air from the roof of a nearby hotel. Everyone cheers, the music plays on, and dancers twirl as fireworks burst in the sky above us.

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Fireworks and flags at Ayia Anna

We finally leave after midnight and take the long way – along the road – back to our place. I will not risk the cliff path in the dark. When we finally collapse into bed, the music is still dancing across the water from Ayia Anna. It continues into my dreams.

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