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A Religious Celebration: Theophany in Chania, Crete, Greece

Theophany / Epiphany in Chania, Crete

Theophany / Epiphany in Chania, Crete, Greece 2014

The Greek Orthodox church is the prevailing religion in Greece and holy days are no small matter. While not all Greeks subscribe in practice, tradition is big and on a religious holiday like today, it seems everyone is in agreement.

January 6th, marks Theophany a.k.a. Epiphany (which among other things commemorates the baptism of Christ).  The celebration is also called the “Blessing of the Waters” and on this day boats and ships are blessed.  It’s also called the “The Feast of Lights”.

Interestingly, back around 300 A.D., January 6th was a pagan holiday commemorating the birthday of Aeon, the patron god of Alexandria (Egypt).  Perhaps some religious celebration overlap occurred there.

Chania, Crete

The look of longing. Chania, Crete

In the late morning, I found myself standing at the edge of Chania’s Venetian harbor with thousands of others.  I didn’t see another tourist around.  A procession of several branches of the military and many Greek Orthodox priests marched to the harbor.

On the dock stood the shivering bodies of twenty young men (and ONE brave young woman!).  Following tradition, the priest threw the holy cross into the water (thereby blessing the water) and the young men (and woman) swam to retrieve it.  Three times.  The lucky man (or woman) that captures the cross is assured good luck all year and gets a pendant.  With the holy cross saved three times, horns blared from boats and smoke flares were released.

Rather abruptly, the event was over and hundreds of people followed the military and priests in procession back to the church.  There, Theophany water (somehow different than holy water) was available for the taking from large tanks.  In practice, this water is used to bless oneself (by drinking or applying) or to bless the home.

For the rest of the day it seemed that everyone was at the harbor eating, drinking and socializing.  Vendors sold cotton candy and balloons.  The atmosphere was jovial.  As the marker of the end of the holidays, no doubt many were relishing in the season’s last moments.

Video of Theophany at Chania’s Harbor from my perspective:

Video that shows the swimmers.  Skip to 6 minutes in.

Photos of Theophany in Chania:

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