In the evening of July 31st, and in view of the Assumption day Lent (15th August) that begins the following day, Zakynthians, as a tradition gathered on the coastal areas of town on from Agio Triatha to Agio Dionysios- most would wander around enjoying the summer night, singing and exchanging conversation, waiting for the clock to strike midnight.
On the clock’s strike August 1st, the church bells signifying the advent of Lent, and also giving the signal to Zakynthians, to remove their shoes, lift their skirts and their trousers and enter the sea, on the edge just where the small waves break near the shore, to catch as they say the “malliari.” What they are actually looking for is a stone from which moss is sprouting upon it, green hairy like plants, those that grow beneath the seawater.
It is the so-called ‘hairy’ stone that they are keen to dig up, acting like a trophy, as they bring the stone to the house, clutched high in their hand until it is place under their bed.
The “Malliari” is a centuries-old tradition, no one knows exactly when it started but there was talk that the word ‘Malliari’ was used by purists, those using the Greek Language Katharevousa depeciting demoticits, those using a newer form of the Greek language Demotic back in the 18th century and because of their rather bohemian appearance they were known as the “Malliari”.
The ‘Malliari’ stone is said to bring good luck for the whole year, if nothing else, it helps to keep mosquitoes away. The more hairy the stone, the more likely a single woman is to see the man she will marry in her sleep! So, it’s not just about looking for a hairy stone it’s about looking for a stone with the most hair on it, the hairier the better!!!!.
But no one knows if the custom is more about the metaphysical properties of a hairy stone or the Dionysian enthusiasm by exchanging puns involving the word “hairy”.
It is a fact that this is custom is purely for Horaites. (town’s people). In the villages it is not complied, many may not even know about it, perhaps as they do not live near the sea. Within the town itself, those who would follow mostly the tradition would be those who lived in the coastal areas Ammos Tampakika and Agio Triatha, while the rest of the town had an appetite for jokes, wine and songs. If nothing else, to carry a ‘hairy’ stone from the beach in town, kilometers on foot, well quite frankly, for every village, was definitely a subject of conversation .
The celebration is something between a mini carnival reminiscent of something from the Carnival preceding Lent at Easter and an honorary celebration for the sea, which always, and in many ways is connected to Zakynthos.
In recent years the Municipality of Zakynthos, social groups or clubs, organize a festival with live music from bands and choirs, wine, traditional dishes, barcarolle and Zakynthian serenades.
So, why not join in the fun, there will be a lot happening in town, but don’t forget at midnight you have to catch your “Hairy”!