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Saint Dimitrios Day and Zakynthian traditions

Saturday, 26th October is α special celebration, for it’s the start of what Zakynthians would say “Υiortes” meaning celebrations.

The 26th of October for Greeks is an important day as they celebrate the Great Martyr Dimitrios.

 

History of Saint Dimitrios.

Dimitrios was a Christian and the only son of the military commander of Thessalonica in the early fourth century. He was cherished and educated well. When his father died he was appointed the position his father had, serving the Emperor Maximian. Maximian, however was opposed to Christ and demanded Dimitrios to persecute and kill the Christians in the city.

Disobeying orders he openly preached Christianity and confessed his belief as well as his disgust for idolatry (and thus openly criticising the Emperor himself). The enraged Emperor cast him into prison, and Dimitrios, knowing his fate, had his servant Lupus give his wealth to the poor. Whilst in prison an Angel of God appeared to Dimitrios saying, “Peace be with thee, thou sufferer for Christ; be brave and strong!” After several days, the Emperor sent soldiers to the prison to kill Dimitrios. The soldiers came into the cell finding the Saint at prayer, and killed him with their spears. Christians secretly took his body and buried it, and his relics began producing a healing fragrant of myrrh.

A small church was soon built over his relics, dating back to the 4th Century (A.D) and when an Illyrian nobleman, by the name of Leontius, a century later 629-634(A.D) ran prayerfully up to the relics of St. Dimitrios and was completely cured of an incurable disease, he built a much larger church replacing the small one.

Saint Dimirtios church.

In Thessaloniki, they celebrate their patron Saint much like we do ours, in Zakynthos. The church is arguably one of the most important churches within Thessaloniki. The temple is a fine sample of Byzantine religious architecture of the late early period of the Empire (7th century A.D.). The initial architectural design and interior decoration was significantly deteriorated, due to continuous reconstructions, additions and several disasters that occurred throughout the centuries.

Zakynthos has honoured St. Dimitrios in her own way. The Church of Staint Dimitrios which is located right in the village of Agios Dimitrios, on the hill. In its splendor gives honour to The Saint holding services and a blessing of his icon. The old church dates back to the 16th century but was destroyed and rebuilt several times after earthquakes. In 1807 granted by decree of the Ionian Senate το the inhabitants of the village as a brotherhood. The church was rebuilt after the earthquake of ’53. The temple inside contains artworks old and new. Below the loft is important folk artwork depicting the procession in the village by an anonymous painter over the last years of the 19th century. History itself and of course the icon of the Saint is celebrated in all its glory.

Xronia Polla.

Although the day is extra special in Thessaloniki. It can not go without saying that Zakynthos has her way of celebrating the day as well. Whilst Zakynthos has many traditions. This day for the locals is when several traditions are carried out. Traditions which have continued from generation to generation. Not only do Zakynthians with the name of Dimirtios, or female version Dimitra celebrate their name. Many celebrate after waiting patiently for their wine to ferment in their barrels across the Island. For Saint Dimirtios day, is the day they open up their barrels and a chance to taste their favourite nectar. You will often hear the chit chat around the village. The words “to anixes to vareli sou”, meaning did you open your barrel?

Wine tasting match.

Of course, when the tasting begins from farmer to farmer a small competition takes place always in good fun, especially at the local coffee shop where you will hear them boasting as to how good “their” wine is and speaking of a taste that compares to none. Obviously, this usually ends in a tasting session throughout the next few months as more barrels are opened.

The farmer, who has been voted with the best of the lot, takes pride and joy offering a bottle or two as a gift for being praised by their friends. Customs on this day around Zakynthos being the official celebration of opening the wine barrles, the first glass obviously in honour of the name Demeter (Goddess Dimitra is the most known since the antiquity). Demeter derives from the Greek words Gi (Gaia) and Mitra (Mother). The name Dimitrios or Dimitris refers to the one born from mother earth thus celebrating the wine that their God produced in Pagan years. Nowadays it is referred to Christianity and that of the Saint. Those who are named in his honour are celebrated with Χρόνια Πολλα!

Preparing for the Winter.

Another tradition that falls on Saint Dimitrios day is closer to housework. It is the official day for many Zakynthian women to lay down their rugs. Rugs that had been carefully cleaned during the summer months, rolled up and put aside waiting for the winter months ahead. Most Zakynthians regard this day the start of winter. As the weather changes and temperatures drop you can often hear the women telling each other that the carpets in their house will soon be laid down.

As for me, I always celebrate this day with a feast to honour my father in law and celebrate the name day of my older son. My father in law was a great man and will always be missed. However, one thing that does remain and we are proud of, are the vineyards he so carefully tended to. The technique of making the wine he passed on to me. Ensuring that our family will always have one of the best local wines. Well, at least some think so! I am sure that this year’s wine will be more than a conversation maker at our local coffee shop! As I will be busy preparing for the day tomorrow I want to take the opportunity to wish all Xronia Polla and a big “Stin Igeia sou Dimitri” wherever you maybe.

About Louise Inzk

Louise is Australian born and has been a Greek citizen since 1991. She has deep cultural ties with the island, often writing about Zakynthian Traditions and Culture. She is also an active member of the Volunteer Group of Zakynthos, Giostra Di Zante and is a member of the women's choir "Rodambelos". Her love of the island and all it offers saw her joining the Zakynthos (Zante) Informer admin team in 2014.

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