Traditions of Fall

29 August Apokefalisis tou Prodromou
(Beheading of John the Baptist)

8 September/Yennisis tis Panaghias
(Birth of the Virgin Mary)

This day is also an occasion for feasting, with music and dancing following. There is a big festival in the hill town of Vourliotes , near the northern coast of Samos island on this day. In Rhodes, the monastery at Tsambika is a place of pilgrimage for childless women.

14 September Ipsosis tou Stavrou (Exaltation of the Cross)

This is an important holiday for farmers in Greece, when they bring a mix of all the seeds they will be sowing to the priest, to have them blessed by him. He, in turn, gives out basil leaves to his congregation. This holiday also falls during the general period of the grape harvest, and a bunch of the best grapes is offered to the local patron saint and to the dead, reminiscent of the custom in ancient Greece of such offerings to the gods.

In some parts of the country, there are wine feasts, with sampling of various local wines. Wine is still made by villagers by stamping of grapes in stone troughs where the grapes have sat for some days, the juice (mousto in Greek/must in English) kept in barrels (these days mostly plastic, though many wineries still used wooded casks). Many villagers pride themselves on producting wine 'horis farmako' (without poison, meaning unsprayed, though many use some chemical fertilizer).

26 October Feast of Aghios Dhimitrios and the Tzamala custom

This is a big holiday in rural areas, the day on which the new wine is brought out and sampled. It is the time when 'little summer' (called Indian summer in the United States) is usually being happily enjoyed, before the onset of winter, and the gardens are still full of vegetables and various crops.

An interesting tradition associated with Aghios Dimitrios in northern Greece-mostly in Thrace, but also found in the Macedonian village of Flambouro--is that of the 'Tzamala', whose name most likely comes from the Arabic word for camel, 'jamel'.

One such version of the Tzamala tradition involves the building of a camel skeleton with wood, which is then covered with cloth and sheepskins, and set in motion by two men who stand under it and begin walking, accompanied by villagers wearing grapevine wreaths on their heads (symbols of fertility). This colorful group goes from house to house after sunset and offers wishes for fertility and abundance all year long, and are treated to some wine by the housewives.

In some places in Thrace, this custom has also been enacted on Christmas eve. In one town, close to the border between present day Greece and Turkey, in Karoti, Thrace, a traditional dance was also performed by the camel procession, and each household gave gifts of food (potatoes, corn, fruit, etc). to the tzamala, the gifts to be in part distributed to the poor, and in part offered in an auction at the local kafeneio (men's traditional coffee house), though the money collected from the latter was also later given to the poor. This custom in Karoti, was last known to be performed during the early 1960s.

Another interesting version of the tzamala custom belongs to the village of Epivates in eastern Thrace, with three men underneath the tzamala, the first of whom held a long pole that reached as high as the second story of the village houses, and to which was attached the skull of a horse. Bells, both large and small, were hung around the neck of the tzamala, which set up a terrific din with its procession around the village. At some point during the procession a smaller tzamala would appear, seen as the 'child' of the larger one. A song, also called 'The Tzamala' was sung by everyone during the celebration.

In Flambouro, Macedonia, teams of four or more men would make the tzamala dance, with rocking movements from side to side,undulations up and down,and kneeling, all this to the music of local musicians. Here, a man leads the tzamala with a rope, who is dressed up in Arab-like garb, or just in old clothes. In older times, this man was dressed in the costume of a married woman, and he himself was known as the tzamala. Certain villagers are also chosen to carry trays and collect money during the tzamala procession, to be given to the church. The song sung here, as in Epivates, has Turkish lyrics. Most fascinating, during this version of the custom, at some point the tzamala gives birth. These tzamala customs arose during the long Turkish occupation, though the Turkish word for camel (deve) is very different from the Arabic one used.