November 30, 2022

Greek Customs and the Feast of Saint Andrew

Well of Saint Andrew in Patras, 1819

Saint Andrew the First-Called Apostle was martyred in the Greek city of Patras, where the largest cathedral in Greece honors his name over the place he was martyred. He is celebrated annually on November 30, which coincides with the last day of autumn. For this reason, his celebration includes beliefs, fears, hopes and perceptions, customs and habits, with a magical, superstitious character. Saint Andrew is considered the patron saint of Nafplio as well, since the liberation of the city of Nafplio from the Turks took place on November 30, 1822.

The villagers of the mountains and plains fear the month of November, which is why they give it the name of Saint Andrew. The people in the Peloponnese and Epirus called the month of November "Aindria". In Kozani, Thessaly, Thrace and Sinope in Pontus, November is called "Andrias". In traditional Greek culture, it is customary for months to be named after a saint, as for example October is also called "Aidemitriatis".

The church has established the day of the celebration of Saint Andrew as a holiday free from labor, which was observed, with reverence and fear, by the agricultural populations of rural Greece, who believed that Saint Andrew grows the seeds. In Roumeli, as well as in the rest of Greece, they considered the feast of Saint Andrew to be agricultural and the customs of the day were distinctly agricultural. In order for the seeds to grow and their fruitfulness and harvest to increase, the farmers on the day of the Saint's feast boiled wheat to which they added sugar, raisins, walnuts and took them to the church to be blessed. Afterwards, they were brought home, where family members ate them or distributed them to neighbors and friends. On the day of the feast, polyspora were boiling in Epirus, Akarnania, Thessaly and Thrace. In these regions, they boiled wheat to which they added sugar, raisins and nuts, ceremonial kollyva, which they distributed to the people. These customs show a connection with the productive energies of the season, when sowing ends and vegetation is expected. In Nigrita of Serres, they believed that on the day of the feast of Saint Andrew, the wheat sprouts. That's why they boiled polyspora. In Koniatsi, today's Evangelismos, Elassonas, after blessing the boiled wheat in the church, they distributed it to the houses for the souls of the dead. A more common offering for the same purposes were the so-called polyspores, sporides, bolias, busburelias, polykoukias, bombolas or wheat cookers. Polyspores are boiled grains mixed with legumes, a panspermia of wheat, barley, corn, beans, chickpeas, beans and lentils. On the eve of the feast, they went to the church to be blessed. Then they ate them and some gave them away.

In Damaskinia of Kozani, old Vedyloustion, they attend church in the morning. In the evening in every farmhouse, the housewife made lalangites. From their dough they used to bless the storeroom below the house so that there would always be a sufficient supply of goods. Along with the ltalangites, polyspora was boiling in a corner of the fireplace, in a tzoukali. The oldest woman of the house would take a plate of boiled polyspora and go out into the courtyard, where she would throw them with her hand three times - as many as the persons of the Holy Trinity - towards the sky, saying: "May the crops grow this high." Then they ate the polyspora, exchanging wishes with each other. Lalangites were made primarily to entertain men and other family members. The next day, which is the new moon, they woke up early and gave lalangites to the animals of the house so that they too would become fat.

In Agrafa, the polyspora were taken unboiled to the church, where they were placed in front of the Beautiful Gate for the priest to bless. In Lykorrachis of Konitsa, old Lupsiko, they threw polyspores in the gardens for good production. In Aiani Kozani, the priest threw the boiled wheat on the tiles after the service. In Eptachori, formerly Vourvoutsikos, Kastoria, seedlings were boiled to make "bereketia". Before taking the seedlings out of the fire, they would throw three spoonfuls of them on the house in order to fertilize the seedlings. In Tyrnavos, on the eve of the feast, the farmers lit a tall candle in the yard of the house or in the barn, among their agricultural tools, the plow and the others, in the grace of Saint Andrew and wished that the seeds would flourish and become so as high as the candle. In Magoula Elassonas, the farmers' families boiled the "pachida", that is, pounded wheat. In many parts of Greece, polyspores were thrown on their fields, in order to have a good harvest. In Farasa, Cappadocia, they performed a qurban (blood sacrifice), slaughtering chickens in memory of Saint Andrew, or "E Ntre", as they called him, in a ruined chapel outside the village.

It was popularly believed that the roof of a house was the dwelling place of demons, agreeable or disagreeable, but definitely dangerous for the occupants of the house. The roof was also frequented by the Kalikantzaroi of the Twelve days of Christmas. Throwing polysporia on the roof was a propitiating act towards the demons living there. Popular belief in the existence of demons on the roof is confirmed by some of the wedding customs. More specifically:

In Artotina in the mountains of Doris, the bride would throw a nail on the roof tiles to prevent the harmful effects of demons. In Vourvoura, Kynouria, the groom turned over the roof tiles of the bride’s house, and even cracked a few. In Vournika, Lefkada, the bride would propitiate the roof demons by throwing almonds, nuts and koufeta (wedding bonbons) onto the tiles. In Baousioi, Ioannina, the bride threw a glass full of honey or wine on the roof.

In Cyprus, Saint Andrew, or “Ai Ntrikas” as he is called, is considered the healer of the deaf, paralyzed and epileptics. Up to the fateful year of 1974, crowds of pilgrims, both healthy and ill, thronged to the Saint’s monastery, located in the Karpasitiki region on the east coast. Many Cypriots took their children there to baptize them and give them the name of Andros and Androula, i.e. Andreas and Andriana.

According to one tradition that comes from Chios, Saint Andrew, together with Saint Haralambos, is also considered to be an exterminator of the plague. It is said that he walked around the village of Chalkios at night, to protect the local people from the Black Death.

In years gone by, on the day of Saint Andrew’s feast, tiganites (fritters) with honey were made everywhere. It was even believed that Saint Andrew pierced the frying pan of the housewife who forgot the custom. That is why one of the saint’s nick names was Trypotigana or Trypotiganiti (he who pierces frying pans). In the Patriarchate of Constantinople, loukoumades with honey were offered to the congregation after the church service. The French traveller Guillaume-Joseph Grelot, who travelled in Greece in 1670, informs us that on Saint Andrew’s day, women were always making tiganites.

Today, clean water coming from the oracular spring of the goddess Demeter fills Saint Andrew’s well, next to the Basilica designed by Lysandros Kaftantzoglou, which is the Old Saint Andrew Church of 1836, on the west coast of Patras. After the church service on November 30th, young lovers went to Saint Andrew’s well and drank handfuls of water, to ensure their welfare. In earlier times, in the Patras area, on the eve of the feast of Saint Andrew, lachanopites (cabbage pies) were made and sent to the church to be distributed among the poor. This was a custom of consoling and honoring the dead. At the same time, i.e. early winter, farmers in European countries were making crèpes of wheat, for worms not to eat the young plants. These were for placating evil spirits.

Another tradition from Patras says that seaweed was often found in the Saint’s cenotaph. This was because the Saint, who was a fisherman, helped fishing boats in danger during big storms. In places that were close to the sea, next to the great maritime routes and islets, Saint Andrew was considered the patron of fishermen and crews of small ships. This view was prevalent in Kimolos, Paxos, Ithaca, Astypalaia, Cyprus and the coast of Propontis.

The association of the name of Saint Andrew with the Greek word “andras” (man) explains dream predictions on marriage that took place on the feast day. In Skyros, on the day of “Ai-Andrios”, young girls fasted so as to dream that night of their future husband. In the village of Chalkios in Chios, girls lit the lamps in the Chapel of Saint Andrew, praying to him to arrange a good marriage for them.

Many Saints are punishers, imposing punishments on people who do not observe the feasts and customs or are disrespectful. Punisher saints are usually the ones, like Saint Andrew, whose feast falls on days critical for agriculture and animal husbandry. From the Chronicler of Dorotheos, a vernacular text of 1570, we learn that in a church situated on some Cycladic island, an irreverent priest used a spear to extract the right eye of Saint Andrew’s icon. Miraculously, at that same moment, out came the priest’s right eye and replaced that of the Saint’s in the icon.

The date of Saint Andrew’s feast at the end of autumn, marks the beginning of winter. As the popular saying goes, on Saint Andrew’s day, the cold “andrievei” (intensifies) as does the north wind and the winter, the first snows fall on the mountains and even the hay gets cold. There is less farm work, the days grow shorter and people go home early or gather at friends’ and relatives’ houses, spending entertaining evenings in front of the fire. The following popular verses from the island of Milos are typical:

- Saint Andrew how do you do?
In winter where will you go?

– I’ll stay at home
and light the fire
and treat you all to wine!

In Mesara, Crete, on the 30th of November, carpets would be laid and heavy woollen bedding known as batanies were taken out of chests.

Summing up all that was mentioned above, the Greek people believe Saint Andrew to be the patron of farmers and crops, a healer of the blind, deaf, paralyzed and epileptics and an exterminator of plagues. He was also patron saint of fishermen, the crews of small vessels, of lovers and young girls who he helped dream of their future husbands.

Finally we should note that the knowledge and study of customs preserved and practiced mainly by women, help us understand the simple country people with their hopes, beliefs and fears about the visible and the invisible world surrounding them. Traditional customs are part of our cultural heritage. They constitute a record of the popular worship practiced by our ancestors, both ancient, Byzantine and more recent.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.