November 30, 2023

Greek Folk Customs for the Feast of Saint Andrew

Any Cretan housewife who does not make pancakes today will have a hole in the pan, this is what the custom that accompanies the feast of Saint Andrew, also called Trypotigana, commands.

But how did this custom come about? First of all, we are going through a period of fasting but also the beginning of the olive harvest season and the production of the first oil of the year, so it was not difficult to combine the celebration, on the one hand, with a fasting meal and on the other hand with a sweet that would contain oil to honor the blessed product that entered every household.

In his book "Folk Rituals in Crete" the author and journalist Nikos Psilakis writes: "... At the end of the month, however, the first olives should have been ground and the new oil should have reached every household. Frying on Saint Andrew's feast day (or the eve) was to be done with oil from the new harvest. The use of the new olive oil incorporated a special ritual. They often poured the oil into the pan crosswise while saying a wish, such as 'good luck' or 'and next year'. It is probably an echo of its beginnings, the custom of sharing the first fruits of the harvest or offering them to the gods."

Religious Explanation

However, there is also a more religious explanation of the custom, which says that while Jesus was passing through the village of the Apostle Andrew, he, seeing Him hungry and thirsty, invited Him to his house. But when he got there, his wife informed him that there is nothing but water, flour, oil and honey. With these ingredients he made pancakes for Jesus to eat.

For this reason, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which according to tradition was founded by the Apostle Andrew, following the centuries-old tradition, every year on this day offers loukoumades with honey to all those present at its morning service.

Pancakes are an Ancient Food

Pancakes, however, have a long past, since the Ancient Greeks also made them and called them tēganites or tagēnias, words that come from the word tagēnon, i.e. frying pan. The oldest reference to pancakes is confirmed in the works of poets of the 5th century BC, Cratinus and Magnes.

Pancakes, in ancient times, were prepared with wheat flour, olive oil, honey and curdled milk and served for breakfast. Another type of pancake was the staititas, which came from the word "staitinos" from "stais", a dough made from wheat flour. Athenaeus of Naucratis mentions in his Deipnosophistae that staititas were served with honey, sesame and cheese.

Customs Related to Saint Andrew Throughout Greece

The archaeologist Afendra Moutzali tells us that the popular veneration of Saint Andrew includes beliefs, fears, hopes and perceptions, customs and habits, with a magical, superstitious character.

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 "Aintria". In Kozani, Thessaly, Thrace and Sinope of Pontus, November is called "Antrias".

More generally, the agricultural populations of Greece believed that Andrew the First-Called "anntrievi", i.e., grows the grainfields. 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. They were then 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 the productive energies of the season, when sowing ends and vegetation is expected.

In Damaskinia of Kozani, old Bedyloustion, in the morning they go to church. In the evening in every farmhouse, the housewife made lalangites (pancakes). From their dough they used to bless with the sign of the cross the storeroom at the bottom of the house so that there would always be a sufficient supply of goods. Along with the lalangites, 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 yard, where she would throw them three times with her hand - as many as the persons of the Holy Trinity - towards the sky, saying: "So high may the offshoot be." Then they ate the polyspora, exchanging wishes among themselves.

The lalangites were made primarily for men and other members of the family. 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 polyspora in the gardens for good production. In Aiani of Kozani, the priest threw the boiled wheat on the roof tiles after the service. In Eptachori, formerly Vourvoutsikos, Kastoria, seeds were boiled to make "bereket".

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 Goblins of the Dodeka (Twelve days between Christmas and Theophany). Throwing polyspora 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.

Before taking the seeds out of the fire, they would throw three spoonfuls of them on the house in order to fertilize the seeds. 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 others, in memory of Saint Andrew and prayed that the seeds would flourish and become as high as the candle. In Magoula of Elassona, 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 of Cappadocia, they performed a qurbani (blood sacrifice), slaughtering chickens in memory of Saint Andrew, or E Ntre as they called him, in a ruined chapel outside the village.

According to a tradition originating from Chios, Saint Andrew, together with Saint Haralambos, is also considered to be the chaser of the plague. They say he roamed around the village of Chalkeio at night, to protect its inhabitants from the black death.

Today, the oracle spring of the goddess Demeter is now the well of Saint Andrew with clean water, which is located next to the modest basilica of Lysandros Kautantzoglou, "Old Saint Andrews" (1836) on the western beach of Patras.

On November 30 in Patras, after the service, young and loving couples would go to the well of Saint Andrew and drink handfuls of water, to ensure their prosperity.

In the past, on the eve of the feast of Saint Andrew in the area of Patras, they made cabbage pies, which they sent to the church to be distributed to the poor. It is a propitiatory and obituary custom.

Another tradition from Patras states that seaweed was found in the tomb of the Saint. This happened because the Saint, who was a fisherman, in every big storm helped the fishing boats that were in danger.

In places that were close to the sea, next to the major maritime communication routes and on micro-islands, Saint Andrew is considered the patron of fishermen and the crews of small ships. This perception prevailed in Kimolos, Paxos, Ithaca, Astypalaia, Cyprus and the coasts of the Propontis.

The connection of the name of Saint Andrew with the word "andras" (man) interprets the dreams about marriage that took place on his feast day. In Skyros on the feast of "Ai-Antrios" on this day, the young girls fasted in order to dream at night of their future husband. In the village of Chalkeio in Chios, the girls lit lamps in the Chapel of Saint Andrew, begging him to allow them to marry well.

Many Saints are punishers, inflicting punishments on people who do not observe feasts and customs or are disrespectful. Punisher saints are usually those, such as Saint Andrew, whose feast day coincides with critical days for agriculture and animal husbandry. From the Chronograph of Dorotheos, a popular text of 1570, we are informed that in a church located on a Cycladic island, an impious priest took out the right eye from the icon of Saint Andrew with a spear. At the same time and in a miraculous way, the right eye of the priest came out, which stuck on the icon from which they were taken out.

The calendar position of the feast of Saint Andrew, at the end of autumn, marks the beginning of winter. On Saint Andrews, as the people say, the cold, the north wind and the winter "disappear", the first snows fall on the mountains and even the straw gets cold. Agricultural work is getting less, the length of the day is getting shorter and people are gathering early in their homes or in the homes of relatives and friends having a Nychteri, Aposperida or Soiree by the fireplace.

In Messara on November 30, winter carpets were laid in the houses and blankets and heavy woolen bedclothes were taken out of the drawers.

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