The holidays in Lefkada has a special character. They keep a balance between tradition and modern expression. The combination of both these elements in the events that are organised can only bring joy to the guests of the island.
Christmas in Lefkada
December starts to smell of Christmas very early. The Christmas decoration in public spaces appears in the city and in the villages and the bright lights warm the cold winter atmosphere.
In the city of Lefkada
Plenty of events are organised by the Municipal Cultural Centre, the Cultural and Educational Clubs, the Philharmonic Society of Lefkada and the Holy Bishopric of the island. Parallel events of every kind are also held by visual arts departments, schools, allophone associations of the island but also all the shops of the town that contribute to the festive and pleasant mood.
The events usually include music nights (the Christmas concert of the Philharmonic Society of Lefkada has become a custom), Christmas bazaars, theatrical plays, dance nights, visual arts exhibitions, photography exhibitions and many more.
In the recent years, the events of the Youth Centre of the Holy Bishopric of Lefkada and Ithaca are of special interest. They recapture the Christmas atmosphere of the era of Nativity by setting up sceneries and accompanying them with games and other happenings, especially for the children that visit the island with their families.
In the traditional part of the holidays within the city the carols play an important role, on Christmas, New Year’s and Epiphany Eves. Apart from the colourful and cheerful groups of children that preserve the custom around the town’s neighbourhoods, the visitors of the island will be able to listen to the Philharmonic Society’s orchestra playing the carols and Christmas tunes on the central market street and the “Agiomavritiki Kompania” (a traditional Lefkadian band that is present in all the events of the city) singing traditional carols and serenades on the small streets. Finally, the Cultural Club of Nea Horodia (New Choir) keeps the custom of performing carols on the market and the esplanades of the town.
The Twelve Days of Christmas end with the diving of the Holy Cross. After the Grand Holy Water liturgy in various churches, the priests gather at the Cathedral with the Bishop in charge, accompanied by the authorities, the band of the Philharmonic Society of Lefkada and many worshipers, and then go down to the pier of the town in order to perform the ceremony of the diving of the Holy Cross. Volunteers of all ages dive every year into the cold waters of the channel to catch the cross. The person who manages to recapture the cross pays their respect, hands it over to the rest and then returns it to the Bishop.
After that they go back to the Cathedral. In the old days, the “winner” used to wander around the houses and received wishes and treats.
When the Holy Cross is thrown into the sea for the third time, the people who attend the ceremony dip a bunch of oranges tied with a string into the sea. Then they take them home as a blessing. They keep one of them with the icons of the house. This orange is believed to shrink but not to rot. Whenever there was a storm, the locals used to throw these oranges into the sea to calm it down. Furthermore, before the ceremony of the Holy Cross diving, they used to throw last year’s oranges into the sea.
It is a custom that dates comes from the era of the Venetian Rule. Back then, according to tradition, The Holy Water service was held at the town’s water reservoir call “Megali Vrysi” (Great Spring), near the church of Zoodohos Pigi. This area was full of citrus groves, owned by the rich landlords. The most common citrus trees were orange trees. These nobles used to hold the front seats of the ceremony, next to the Bishop, and they were the ones that introduced the custom of the oranges to bless the harvest.
In the villages
The villages are decorated with the help of the local cultural clubs and organize festive events, mainly for children and elderly people, that, however, people of all ages can attend, such as Christmas bazaars, gift exchanges, traditional carols and happenings. All houses are open and welcome guests to treat them the traditional “ladopita” (olive oil pie) that is the customary New Year’s cake in Lefkada.
The custom of the diving of the Holy Cross is revived at every small port of the island’s coastal villages and at every spring or stream of water in the mountainous villages.
The mood at the churches of the villages is particularly pious and it is worth attending the Christmas morning service in one of those.
Easter in Lefkada
Easter in Lefkada is dreamy! Nature is at its peak and the beauty of the landscapes perfectly matches the pious atmosphere of the Holy Week, because it reminds us of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In the city of Lefkada
In the city, cultural clubs, schools and associations organise mostly Easter bazaars and music nights that are appropriate for the atmosphere of the Holy Week. The churches follow the series of the liturgies and the mood is particularly religious.
On Good Friday, after the evening mass, the Epitaph litanies take place in the town. All the litanies pass by the Market Street and the Central Square. The first one to come out is the one of the church of Agios Nikolaos. After that comes the one of Agia Paraskevi and Agii Anargyri. Then comes the Epitaph of Agios Minas and, finally, the one of the Cathedral, accompanied by the Bishop, the authorities, a honour guard and, of course, the Philharmonic Society’s band.
At the Central Square there is a prayer service and the Philharmonic performs mourning pieces of classical music. Many people gather there and attend the service within an emotionally charged atmosphere. The Philharmonic Society keeps the custom even when the weather conditions are unfavourable, with cold, rain or wind. In the old days, the epitaph litanies were held at dawn on Holy Saturday and later on the litanies from all the churches met at the central square where the believers from different parishes used to tease each other.
In the morning of Holy Saturday, when the first bell sounds, the residents of the town throw the “kommati”, i.e. they break clay pots that they keep at home. The custom comes from the psalm’s phrase that refers to the resurrection of Jesus Christ: “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”. The Philharmonic Society’s band marches around the market street and the small roads of the town performing the “Eothinon” hymn, while the people break pieces of clay pots on the feet of the musicians, creating noise. Since 1997 the municipality has taken on the initiative to hand over small clay pots at the central market street, so that everybody can participate in the custom.
At midnight of Holy Saturday the churches fill with congregants who piously wait for the Holy Fire of the Resurrection. Gathered inside and outside the temples, they wish to each other amidst fireworks and the glow that is created by the thousands of candles. In the city of Lefkada, the non local residents traditionally attend the holy service at the beautiful church of “Panagia ton Ksenon” (Mother Mary of the Foreigners). The temple was founded in the beginning of the 18th century and served the religious needs of the non-Lefkadian residents of the town.
After the service of the Resurrection, the people continue celebrating either at home among their families, eating non-fasting delicacies or in the restaurants and the traditional taverns of the town. And then, the night clubs accept all those who want to have fun until dawn.
In the villages
The pious mood of the Holy Week is particularly intense in the villages of Lefkada. The bishopric of Lefkada and Ithaca informs the congregants in time about which monasteries will hold services within the Holy Week and when, and this is a very good choice for those who want to relive the Passion of Jesus, in the idyllic atmosphere of the island’s old monasteries.
The decoration of the Epitaphs in the villages in the morning of Good Friday smells sweet because they are made with the wildflowers of the island. The visitors that wish it can take part in the ornamenting. Many teenagers and young people are present in this traditional Christian custom, and this is a very optimistic fact. The evening programme of the Epitaph litanies differs from place to place. It usually starts early in the evening and finishes late at night. There is something special in each village.
The Resurrection liturgy is also very pious. It spreads out the news of life beating death through the “Christ is Risen!” wishes and the warm hugs of the people, the colourful fireworks and the noisy firecrackers.
The traditional roasting of the lamp in the villages and the town of Lefkada used to be done on Monday, the second day of Easter. However, nowadays many people hold this custom of Easter Sunday.
Do not miss the celebration of Agios Georgios (Saint George), if it happens to be after Easter, because it is one of the moveable feasts. At the chapels and the churches that celebrate on this Name Day and at the monastery of Agios Georgios in Marantohori the litany of the holy icon is done upon horses that fill the churchyards in order to honour the saint.