The celebration of Holy Mary (15th of August) is not one more religious celebration.
It’s the “Easter of the summer”.
And the “loss” of Virgin Mary is not a mournful event. On the contrary is one of the most glorious festivities as Holy Mary came back to life.
The whole of Greece is in celebration.
Everywhere in Greece there is a huge fair, (that you shouldn’t miss).
And the reason is that this celebration is for the “Mother” of God, the Mother of all the people.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be in Imvros on the 15th of August. Every year more than 5,000 people from around the world, from New Zealand, Australia, and America return to the island. They are drawn by the need to visit the houses they left behind, to see their homeland again, to go to the graves of their ancestors. And they gather for the most “Greek” and the most emotional celebration you will ever experience. Customs are preserved across the centuries. (the night before they boil meat with wheat in large caldrons and they make “the kourkouta”; after church, they go to the cemeteries to eat with their ancestors. This silent island which has been through so much over the years is also resurrected every 15th of August.
You will experience also the magic in Patmos (where they do an Epitaph, exactly as it happens in most of the islands), Special experience is also the 15th of August celebration in Samothraki.
The 15th of August in the old times…
I think that in my child mind the 15th of August was linked with one part of my vacations. Either we were going to the village or to Thessaloniki and Halkidiki.
At the old village, all the women were gathering at the Church and they were sleeping there to “accompany” Holy Mary. In this very unique gathering the old women were sharing stories and fascinating old fairy tales…At the same time grandma Eftychia in Thessaloniki was also waiting for us.
They were “loading” the kids , siblings, cousins, luggages paraphernalia and all the rest in the dark Mirafiori car, that paradoxically could fit all of us..
And daddy was always saying the same line to my mom: “Are we gonna travel again so full”?
He was winking to her and he was giving us a buddy-buddy smile and… the promising trip was beginning. While daddy was driving he was doing all kinds of jokes and sketches of Karagkiozis and we were bursting into laughters. Mom was falling asleep and I was waiving to all the ATE banks (at the time I was a firm believer of the idea that ATE belongs to us, just because mommy was working there!).
We were only stopping so I could buy “Sport tou vorra” for my dad and the Rodi Magazine for myself. (I was a big fan of Rodi and were buying every single issue.
And of course we were making a small stop so we could eat the best breakfast of Macedonia: Mpougatsa with cheese and chocolate milk Topino from Mevgal, at Theios Vanias. Whoever hasn’t experienced that breakfast doesn’t know what a real Saloniki breakfast is.
When we were finally arriving, we were always looking for our shoes, always lost inside the car… And then it was just about the hugs and the kisses of our beloved ones, in beds and divanis… At the same time daddy was in a hurry because he had to go “in”, back to work.
We were dressing up. I was always wearing a white dress, with white sandals (my Easter gift), and my hair were made up in a ponytail with a white ribbon… And I was so proud.
I couldn’t understand a lot but I knew that Panagia was celebrating.
It was confusing for me that she had so many names. I have never seen anybody else having so many names. And I was noting them down, so I wouldn’t forget… Megaloxari, Ekantopuliani, Faneromeni, Kosmosotira, Hazoviotissa, Eikosifoinissa, Vrefokratousa, Eleousa, Thalassini, Giatrissa, Mirtidiotissa and so many others…
Only when I grew up, did I realise that Panagia regardless of how religious you may be, is the one that you will always address to. She is your Mother, the Mother of your Mother, Mother of everybody and she can be given as many names as we want to give to her.
Only when the years were adding up, the one after the other, did I realise how often I have turned to her. Every time that I got scared, that I have lost my faith, that I got angry, that I was happy, that I wanted to lean to somebody.
Only when the years went by, did I realise that Panagia has nothing to do with the mere religious faith, or with the times you go to church.
Panagia belongs to everybody.
And the years went by..
Mirafiori is not around anymore, Rodi magazine has stopped being published, “Theios Vanias” has closed in our neighborhood, Grandpa Mitsos is not with us anymore to take me to our small yard to touch our watermelons, grandma Artemis is not going to say goodbye to us anymore with her wise wishes “May Virgin Mary be with you”. My grandparents in Thessaloniki that were always waiting for us in the balcony, are gone forever and ATE bank is closed for good. And I miss all of them terribly.
But every time that the celebration of the 15th of August approaches everything returns back on track as a blast from the past. The salty “bougatsa” with the chocolate milk “Topino”sweetens somehow the bittersweet taste in the mouth.
And no matter where I am in the world, I am lighting a candle. A candle for the ones who left, but will see again. A candle for my people that I only ask from God to keep them safe and sound. Last but not least a candle for the whole world.
Happy 15th of August my Greece.
No matter where you are. May Virgin Mary be always by our side.