LEROS TRADITIONAL CUSTOMS
Find all the information about the Leros traditions
The Panagia tou Kastrou has always been a religious and spiritual centre point for Leros during the long march through the centuries of history, and so every 15th August crowds of people climb up to pay their respects to the Panagia. For the Lerian emigrants, it is a vow that wherever they may be, they will come to Leros on that day to climb up and light a candle. The day before the festival, on the 14th August, many locals and visitors climb up the stairs of the castle in the early evening, with religious devoutness. The steps that lead up to the Panagia start from the square in Platanos. The square is always full of pilgrims on this day. The climbing of the steps is easy for the young and difficult for the older people. A vow is a vow however. Many stop short of the church, either to catch their breath or to admire the view. At the evening service on that day, the eulogies are chanted, and there is a reconstructed funeral procession (epitafios) for the Panagia.
There is blessing and honour for whoever carries this epitafio even if only for a while. It is after the pilgrimage that the festival begins. In the past the celebrations took place in the square of Platanos, but nowadays the music and the dancing take place among groups of friends in their houses, restaurants, the beaches and everywhere on the night of 14th August. Island songs can be heard from all directions.
The Festival of Trata
Early Septemper takes place at Panteli the Festival of Trata or the Festival of the fishermen .About 6 in the afternoon a Trata throws the nets at Panteli beach and all the catch it will be later grilled and offer for free to the visitors as well with free wine. Local musicians playing traditional Leros songs and the visitors dancing until late in the evening
High up in the castle, which is on one of the highest hills of our island, is located the church The Panagia tis Megaloharis. This church represents a long historical tradition which started in the period of Turkish occupation and has lasted until today.
For centuries now our island lives, breaths and sleeps with faith and respect for its Panagia, who is the best, most beautiful, sweetest and most sympathetic of all the Panagias on the island. Every year, on her saint’s day, locals and those not from Leros climb up the 500 steps from Platanos to the castle on foot. The well-known bell made of bronze and silver and created by famous Russian craftsmen, calls these people to the festival and reminds women and the sick of the vows which they have made to her. Mothers too dress their children in black for the fifteen days before and on the 14th August they take them up to the Panagia to the evening service, they light a candle, kneel under the icon of the Panagia and as soon as the service ends they shed the black clothes and leave them for the Panagia. The women bake holy bread, hurry to the religious services, get on the psalter and fill the church with melodic psalms, psalms that come from the depths of their souls, as a thank you for the help they have received.
Our Panagia is a miracle – worker and this belief is closely related to the evidence which exists as to the finding of the icon of Megalohari.
Well, when the Turks ruled the castle they noticed a boat in the sea one night. As it approached they confirmed to their astonishment that in the boat was just the icon of the Panagia and two lit candles. Justifiably they wondered how the boat had traveled and considering it a miracle they informed the Turkish administrator and transported the icon to the cathedral. The bells were rung, people gathered and a “doxologia” (a service of worship) took place. However the next morning the icon was found at “Mparouthana” (ammunition stores) on a barrel of gunpowder and in front of it two candles were lit. The guards were accused of having been paid by the Giaourides (Greeks in Turkish) and they were severely punished. The bishop took the icon to the cathedral but the next day the icon was again found in the same place at “Mparouthana”. The Turks were confused. This time the keys to the iron door were held by the commander himself. “How did the icon find its way in there?” It was decided that the Panagia tis Megalohari would stay in “Mparouthana”. Indeed the boat which brought her to the island, was cut up and the pieces of wood were used to make talismans which were distributed in her honour. From then on, the boats have been coming to her, full of Christians and Turks who bring the ill to be cured and be blessed.
However the icon of the Panagia tis Megaloharis made its way to the island, it has firmly become part the Lerians lives. It has become their conscience. It has become their greatest oath. A heavy oath which no one could even imagine breaking. Every 15th August Lerian emigrants return to their island to pay their respects to their Panagia, their hope and to light a candle in her honour and all year round, wherever they may be, they turn to their Megalohari in times of joy and sadness.
The Christmas period is and always has been days of happiness, carefree days of relaxation, celebrating, brotherhood and being with the family. This is why the simple folk have given these days a unique character with customs, songs and Christmas carols. In this way our fellow citizens have also given us their souls during these days. See customs of Crete
The preparation for the celebration of Christmas in Leros begins with the Sarantamero, forty days of fasting and purification of the soul for the people. And although the people are trying to discipline themselves, the “kalikantzaroi” (goblins) come out. Small – bodied, ugly, weak creatures who have uncombed hair, red eyes and goats legs and a tail, goblins live underground all year and try to cut down the tree which supports the world. Although they are almost ready to cut the tree, along comes Sarantamero (on the 15th November) and they rush to come up to earth to annoy, and tempt people. They only roam about at night. They enter houses through the chimneys and they take whatever they like. For this reason, if you knocked on the door of somebody’s house at night during the period of Saratamero they would not answer. They even say that if a child is born during this period that he will be a sleepwalker. During the night then, they come out into the streets and shout and dance together. People also believe that if they get into a house where there is a baby, they go to the cradle and they rock hard and when the baby starts to bleed, the goblins drink its blood. This is why the women put red crosses on the babies’ pillows during the Christmas period. To avoid the goblins’ tricks the Lerians put up mosquito nets, ropes or nets outside the doors of their houses. Until the goblins managed to count the holes of the nets or the threads of the rope, they would get confused and as soon as they heard the first call of the cockerel, they would inform each other: “Protos lalise!” (the first call of the cockerel), then “Defteros lalise!” (the second call of the cockerel), and finally with the third call they would all say together “Shisou gis kai vale mas!” (open up earth and let us in). The goblins would leave when the waters were being blessed, the day of Theofania. Most of the preparations would take place the week before. The housewives would decorate the house, light the fire, decorate the tree and make melomakarona, “ Finikia”, Kourampiedes and koulourakia. If you passed by the houses on Christmas Eve you would see plates full of sweets, the houses would smell delicious and the turkey would be stuffed and ready, waiting for the next day. As night fell the children would go out to sing the Christmas carols and the men of the house would give them money and sweets for their trouble.
Christmas day would be spent celebrating and having a good time and then they went back to work until New Year’s Eve. The housewives made the Basilopites (New Year’s cake) and the adults would go out onto the roads with their tsampounes (wind instrument) and return to see Agios Basilis (the equivalent of Santa Claus).