In Christianity, the period starting from the 25th of December, the day of Christmas, till the 5th of January is called the Twelvetide, meaning the twelve days of Christmas. During this festive season period, the annual celebration of the nativity of Jesus Christ takes place, which is concluded with the commemoration of His Baptism in the Jordan River at the day of the Epiphany.
While we have posted in the past almost everything about Christmas customs and culinary delights of that period, throughout every little corner of Greece, only few it is known about the day of Theophaneia and its respective old and traditional creations.
At that day, Bishop leads a procession of school children and members of various youth organizations accompanied by the local band along to the harbor where he chants. During the Epiphany service, the Bishop dramatically tosses his processional cross into the sea to bless the waters and scores of local lads dive in quickly to retrieve it; he who does is ensured of good luck for the year!
Another aspect of greek Epiphany, is the legend of hobgoblins, known in Greek tradition as "Kallikántzari”. Kallikántzari are friendly but troublesome little creatures which look like elves. Kallikantzari live deep down inside the earth and come to the surface only during the 12-day period from Christmas until Epiphany. While on the earth’s surface, they love to hide in houses, slipping down chimneys and frightening people. Throughout Greece, there are various customs and rituals performed to keep hobgoblins away. Kallikantzari disappears on the day of Epiphany when all waters are blessed, and they return to the earth’s core.
Greek Epiphany, as any other Greek tradition is accompanied with special food for the day. The food is mostly traditional sweets.
Loukoumades are by tradition a Greek recipe. They are sweet and delightful fritters similar to a donut. This is a very ancient Greek pastry and I think this recipe was still the original. Loukoumades is an European pastry consisting of a puffy, sweet dough that is deep fried, then coated with a sweet syrup and sometimes rolled in cinnamon or sesame seeds.
Greek housewives traditionally made Loukoumades on Epiphany, January 6 to ward off the kallikántzari. To prevent the evil spirits from bothering the family, the women would toss the Loukoumades onto the roof of the house to appease them and make them go back into the ground where they came from.
Kserotigana is a specialty of Chania, Crete, this delicious sweet, is traditionally prepared for weddings and engagements, as well as for Epiphany. It is quite easy to make, but it’s time-consuming. Kserotigana is known in other parts of Greece as Diples, and its considered that they bring luck and a sweet honey life to the couple.
Photopites are another traditional sweet, made in the island of Amorgos. For Photopites, are made with a spicy brew laced with hot peppers, and scented with bay leaves and anise seeds. I have no idea where the recipe comes from; I suspect that it was either brought to the island by North African sailors or is a medieval remnant of the savory-spicy-sweet dishes that we still find in some Aegean islands.
Is yet another greek traditional recipe. Lalangia is a dough prepared mostly in southern mainland Greece. The main ingredients are feta, honey orange juice and cinnamon.
One such custom is that of fotokoliva in Crete. The 5th of January, the Paramony of the Theophaneia (meaning the day before), was considered as a very important day for the rural families of Crete as according to religion that night the sky miraculously opened up and farm animals could talk in human voice. That was a God’s intervention in order for the animals to be able to inform God if their masters were taking care of them as they should be and if they were happy living with them. Thus, the day of the Epiphany God would ask the animals about their masters and He should hear no complains.
For this reason, at the day before Theophaneia the farmers used to prepare the fotokoliva, a mixture of various legumes that were all boiled together and comprised the food for both humans and animals that day. Furthermore, the farmers and their families had to also feed the birds by throwing some of the fotokoliva at the fields and farmlands, as well as at the corners of their houses and the streets. Anything wasn’t consumed during that day, it was used as a salad to the festive table of the next day, where meat was necessary.
Fotokoliva is a mix of garbanzos, wheat, lentils, fava beans and regular beans, all boiled together (garbanzos and wheat need more time in preparation than the other legumes) to form a special type of soup. It is served with lemon and Cretan olive oil and it is garnished with fresh onions and dill.