November 3, 2023

Saint George the Drunkard, Saint George the Poor, Saint George the Sower

Throughout Greece on November 3rd the Orthodox Church celebrates a second feast of Saint George the Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer, whose main feast is on April 23rd, which honors the translation of his relics from Nicomedia where he was martyred to Lydda of Palestine, where his sacred relics rest to this day. Because Saint George, whose name means "farmer" in Greek, is such a venerated Saint by the Greeks, and this feast falls around the time of the harvest in Greece since ancient times, rural Orthodox Christian farmers have appropriated ancient pagan festivities to November 3rd.

Some Orthodox have even gone so far as to create an entirely new Saint George to distinguish him from Saint George the Great Martyr and Trophy-bearer, and for this reason they call this other one "Saint George the Lesser" (του Μικρού), and what this Saint George celebrated on November 3rd by these rural and poor Orthodox Christians is known for is tilling and sowing the land and getting drunk on the new wine. This is why he carries the epithets of "Saint George the Drunkard" (Μεθυστής), "Saint George the Poor" (του Φτωχού) and "Saint George the Sower" (Σποριάρης). Therefore, in many parts of Greece, sowing is done on November 3rd, and the barrels with the new wine are opened on this day.

According to folklorist Demetrios Loukatos in Τα φθινοπωρινά ("Autumnals"):

"A standard for the new wines, more hasty and official, is, as we have seen, Saint Demetrios. But wherever there is a church to Saint George, they prefer him for their wines, much more so when they also celebrate him in November, such as in Crete:

'Πάντα τσι τρεις του Νοεμπριού και τσ’ εικοστρείς τ’ Απρίλη,
πανηγυράκι γίνεται στ’ Άι-Γιωργιού τη χάρη...'

'Always on the third of November and the twenty-third of April,
festivities take place in Saint Georges honor...'

The weather in Crete is also 'good' in November. That is why in the chapels of Saint George (such as for example near Rethymnon) the festival-goers take with them bottles or flasks, with 'new wine' and drink. (A. Hatzigaki, Εκκλησίες της Κρήτης, Rethymnon 1954)

Things are more ritualistic in the Dodecanese. In his description, from the village of Spoa in Karpathos, the now Protopresbyter in the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity in Montreal (Canada), Konstantinos Halkias, wrote in 1975: 'Among the many customs, preserved to this day in our village, is the opening of wines on this day (Nov. 3). That's why the day is called: Saint George the Drunkard...

It is an extremely bright, but also very moving sight, when at the moment there arrives at the Tavlan (the festive table, with plenty of meat and food for all the celebrants, from the Bishop and the officials, to the unknown strangers and the least villager) the women of our village, with the jugs and the pitchers full of wine, which they took from the pots and large jars, which were opened for the feast of Saint George, the patron saint of our village.

Inexplicably, all the pilgrims are obliged to taste the treats of all the women, which, the blessed ones, often exceed 40-50! It is not possible to stay dispirited or sober on this day in Spoa...' (see Nisyrian Chronicles, published by the Society of Nisyrian Studies, vol.5, Issue 1976)."

But, as we said, this Saint George, in addition to being a Drunkard, is also a Sower. Thus, some customs of his feast day aim at the abundance of fruitfulness. The well-known folklorist Georgios Megas (Ελληνικές γιορτές και έθιμα της λαϊκής λατρείας) writes about this:

"In Lardo of Rhodes, for example, the farmers put the seed in a vessel and light three candles. Inside with the the seed they mix various fruits and some wheat, which they had kept in the sack of the previous year. From this vessel they put a little seed in a seed bag together with a pomegranate, which they will eat as they are sowing (Αν. Βρόντης, Λαογρ. ΙΑ’, ΙΒ’ 1934, 1938-48)."

The pomegranate, as a symbol of abundance, is especially not missing from the farmer's seed bag.

In Epidaurus, on the day they are going to sow, they put the seed (which was blessed on the feast of the Honorable Cross on September 14th in the church) into the sack, with a whole pomegranate and in the morning, they go to the field. They feed the oxen and, before they start sowing, they take the pomegranate and put it on the ploughshare, mix a few seeds of pomegranate with the seed in their apron, and throw it saying 'Good Abundance!' If they sow an acre, they sit and eat the other pomegranate and bless themselves. (Ευαγγελίδης, Λαογρ. Γ’, 1911)

In Vourvoura of Kynouria, when they begin to sow, they put walnuts, grape stalks and a pomegranate among the seeds. They sow the seed below the dirt and say: "May the offspring be as sweet as the grape, bitter as the pomegranate and fluffy and white as the walnut. (Επετηρίς Βουρβούρων 1939)"
Demetrios Loukatos in Τα φθινοπωρινά ("Autumnals") adds:

"As for Saint George the 'Sower', all the Dodecanese, and the (southern) Cypriots have him as the one who blesses (and reminds them of) their sowing."
The folklorist Anastasios Vrontis from Rhodes calls the November Saint George a "Post-Christian Triptolemus", since he also scatters in the bosom of the earth the gifts of Demeter. On his feast day, the Rhodian villagers go out to sow:

"From the morning, while still dark, every housewife gets up and incenses, then puts the wheat seed in the seed tray, which the farmers use for sowing. Along with the seed, they add garlic, onion, walnut... sesame, and also a pomegranate, which the farmers eat as they sow, saying: 'The more the stalks, the more the kilos.' To the church, on that day, they bring an artoklasia which the housewives make with a common collection of wheat.

And something that homeopaths should pay attention to: Until they sow, many of the farmers don't shave.

In Cyprus, on Saint George the Sower, in addition to the beginning of sowing, they organize an animal fair on this day (near Larnaca) and ask the Saint for rain for the plowing and for the grass - food for their animals. (Cypriot Chronicles, vol. 4)."

Speaking of Triptolemus, sometimes he is depicted as a young man with a branch or diadem placed in his hair, usually sitting on his chariot, adorned with serpents. His attributes include a plate of grain, a pair of wheat or barley ears and a scepter. Porphyry (On Abstinence IV.22) ascribes to Triptolemus three commandments for a simple, pious life: "Honor your parents", "Honor the gods with fruits" ("fruits" would include the grain) and "Spare the animals".



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