Anastenaria started at the beginning of the century in the village of Kosti in the Sozoagathoupolis province of Eastern Rumelia. In the prefecture of Serres, Anastenaria take place in St. Helen and in Kerkini. The "fire walking " ritual is the main feature of the custom but it is followed by other rituals and ceremonies such as the sacrifice of animals and the ecstasis of the faithful while folk music is played by the musicians. The ceremony starts at the Eve of the Constantine and Helen Day on the 20th May.
On this day, they perform the sacrifice of the animals (Qurbani) and they transfer icons (St. Constantine and Helen) from the church to a special shrine in the village. The ceremony culminates on May 21st with the firewalking ritual, where the participants, carrying the icons of saints Constantine and Helen, dance ecstatically for hours before entering the fire and walking barefoot over the glowing-red coals.
In 1854 Nigrita was under the Ottoman rule. Gerakina was a poor girl known for her beauty and nobility of character. One day she went to the well of the area to bring water and inadvertently slipped and fell inside. The villagers in Nigrita cried all day for the unfortunate young woman and accompanied her to her last dwelling after they adorned her with coins and bracelets.
The peak of the cultural events takes place in September in Nigrita and is named after Gerakina, "Gerakineia" In the end there is a feast with dishes from the region.
GYNAECOCRACY – BABO - VREXOUDIA
The celebration of Babo or midwife is an ancient custom. In Monokklisia, the custom is brought in 1923 by refugees from Petra Eastern Thrace. This custom honors the reproduction, the birth of children and the woman who gives birth to. It is a recall of the matriarchal spirit. Every year on January 8th there is a revival of the custom of "feminism" or "Babo" or "Vrexoudia" in the Municipal Districts of Monokklisia N. Petra and A. Camila of Livadia. From early morning, women sing along with the orchestra announcing that the village is now under their authority. Married women elect a woman president and then the rest of the board members, who are also women. Then they occupy public buildings, ring the church bells, collect money for the expenses as well as for supplies for the evening feast. That day, men are engaged in housework and are not allowed to go out. Wearing the housewife’s apron, they wash and iron the clothes and they look after the children. The penalty for violators is the undressing in public.
DRAKOKTONIA (THE KILLING OF THE DRAGON)
According to the tradition, in Souli there was a beast (dragon) which prevented the flow of water from the spring and would only allow it if a villager was offered as sacrifice. One year the lot fell on the princess of the village. When the princess was about to be offered as a sacrifice to the dragon, St. George killed the dragon with a spear and a holy cross and saved her. The princess then built a church in the village to thank the Saint for her rescue.
Every year, the villagers celebrate the miracle and honour the Saint by performing the killing of the dragon known as "Drakoktonia". Two girls dressed in black lead the princess to the field of sacrifice in the square, where there is a feast for the sacrifice. Nearby there is a "dragon" effigy. Saint George arrives riding on his white horse and holding his spear. He kills the dragon, saves the princess and releases the water. Then there is a feast with dancing, wine and traditional food.
It is a folk ritual of Carnival which takes place in the village of Pontismeno. The village is one of the oldest permanent settlements of Roma. In this village, we can still find the most primitive type of lyre in Greece (locally known as "Gikas"). This is a very rough and "primitive" construction in which wires from motorbike brakes are used as strings. "Ketsekia" of Pontismeno is a custom which is not found in any other part of Greece.
This is an ancient custom which is revived in Angista and is based on the concept of sacrifice to the saint of the village. This way the locals used to try to propitiate the saint, for the good of themselves and the village. On the Eve of St. John’s Day, villagers slaughter a beef in a specially designed area near the church. The meat is boiled in large cauldrons overnight. The next day, after the priest blesses the faithful in the Mass, the congregation heads to the room to taste the beef meat garnished with oatmeal.
In the village of Proti, the custom of Dervena (Fire worship) takes place on the last Sunday of Carnival. It is an integral part of the residents’ tradition. The preparation starts two months earlier with the yew picking in every neighbourhood. The neighbourhoods compete against each other about the largest Dervena (heap of yew).
The evening of the last Sunday of Carnival, residents of Proti and the surrounding areas walk around neighborhoods and light the yew heaps. The custom symbolizes the passions, hatred and hostility of people. The event peaks in the central square of the village where people dance, drink wine and eat pies and traditional sarmadakia.
It is a custom which comes from Eastern Rumelia and is associated with the fertility of land. It takes place in St. Helen on the Monday of Cheesefare. The custom involves only men and the main figure is “The Monk”. The custom starts on Monday morning Archianastenaris delivers the ”sfougka" (a material for removing ashtray before baking bread) to the Monk. The "Monk" is dressed in animal skin and puts a gourd topped with peppers on his head. He is accompanied by the "King", and a band of traditional instruments. Together they knock the doors of the village. Housewives welcome the procession, throwing seeds while the "Monk" with his "sfougka" crosses the entry. The "Barber" shaves their households and wishes them a good harvest and the "Prince" offers them a glass of wine. In the afternoon, the procession with the cart arrives at the village square after men with wooden sticks in the hands "hit" the water in the roadside and splatter the people in the procession. The custom ends with the plowing and the sowing of the square.
The traditional wrestling is associated with folklore festivals. Such festivals take place in:
Skotoussa (starts on the 8th September, the day of the feast for the birthday of Virgin Mary).
In the settlement of Pirgos in Mavrothalassa. (at the Eve of St. Marina’s Day, 16 – 17th July).
In Iraklia (end of August), Nigrita (St. Athanasios of Nigrita, May 2nd , St. Thomas of Nigrita, Sunday after Easter, St. John the precursor Flampouro June 24th , St. George of Anthi, April 23rd , St. Panteleimonas of Thermes, July 27th, Zoodochos Pigi of Terpni Friday after Easter, and in Scutari.
There the visitors can see the last traditional wrestlers, known as "Pechlivanides". Before the game starts, athletes wear the so-called "kiouspeti" or "Kispeti", a pair of knee high trouser, made of goat skin. They douse themselves in oil.
The entrance of the athletes in the pit is quite impressive, as they blow their hands on their knees and perform other tricks. Throughout the duration of the games, the sound of traditional musical instruments such as zurna and tabor goes on nonstop, until the big winner is announced.
"Helidonizmata" is a local tradition, according to which children sing on the first day of March for the arrival of the swallows holding a wooden model of the birds. In the past, the first of March was considered the first day of the year and many songs, rituals and customs are associated with it. "Helidonizmata" take place in Nigrita and in many villages of Visaltia. Recently, through the efforts of "Serres Lyceum of Greek Women”, the tradition has revived in Serres as well.