This celebration is the most important in the Arahovian calendar and celebrates the victory by the Greeks over the Ottomans in 1826. During the three-day celebration (22nd - 25th April) the village "dressed" with Greek Flags, as is usual on national holidays and the houses cleaned and polished with the outsides re-whitewashed. In these days the doors and hearts of the people are open to everyone-friends, visitors, enemies, young and old-to join in the festivities. This is a war celebration so the people prepare and dress themselves as they did before going to war during the ottoman occupation. They wash very carefully, dress in the old uniforms carrying old guns from 1821 climb the stairs leading to the church of St. George. Over the church flies the Arahovian soldiers flag which is white with a dragon on it and carries the words Freedom Or Death. Trumpets and cannon shot herald the beginning of 3 days of prayer in the church, for these are some of their most glorious and deeply religious days of the year.
Outside the church the celebrations continue with athletic games such as wrestling, weight lifting and a traditional stone throwing game. On these days the traditional song of the Paniyiraki is sung and with it a traditional dance. This song has been sung for five centuries and was used to pass on a message of hope and that the Ottomans would be overthrown. This song and the dance must be performed together. The warm sun, the colours, uniforms, games, trumpets and cannon shots give to everyone, participants spectators alike impression of war preparations rather than of a religious celebration. This is what it is, the Arahovians are trying to revive the great day of a great battle and any visitors can join in the celebrations if they wish to borrow a national costume from one of the villagers. The highlight of the celebration is the race, which is held on the hill where the battle of 1826 actually took place. Dressed in Foustanella, the traditional shirted costume, old men of
seventy compete against each other to "chase" the Ottomans up the hill.
Panigiraki it is sung in the traditional old Greek language and is a message to the young not forget their roots, their nation, their village as without these they will never survive.
The procession of the icon
After the Vespers, the procession of the icon takes place in the village and follows St. George’s festival with folk dances, songs accompanied by musical instruments, such as drums and trumpets. The procession of the icon defines the limits of the area that is under the protection of the saint. The Icons are decorated with grains and the priests bless the fertility of the earth.
Lamb offering to the Saint
St. George is worshipped mostly by shepherds, as his feast coincides with the season, when shepherds leave winter quarters and take their flocks to higher grounds to graze and afterwards to make cheese. Either out of habit, or because of a vow for finding of lost sheep, cattle-breeders, as well as anyone who has invoked St. George’s help in a need, sacrifice in his feast a lamb or they offer it to a church, so as to be sacrificed and then to be sold.
The priest blesses the sacrificial lamb -usually a white lamb- and then follows the slaughter. Afterwards, people make the sign of the cross with the blood of the sacrificial animal on children’s foreheads and cheeks and issue pieces of raw and cooked meat to the neighbors.
The season and probably the heroic deeds that are attributed to this Saint induce those who commemorate him to organize races.
St. George’s festival lasts three days. The first day, after the service, the race of the old men takes place; a lamb is given to the winner as a prize.The second day the jump-races take place, and on the third the wrestling match and the shot -putting. These symbolic races have been inherited from antiquity.
Folk dances and songs and the common table Dances are also a characteristic of the Greek feasts, besides the athletic games. From Homer’ epics we learn that together with the Athletic games and the banquets, dances and songs brought euphoria to the people after the hardships and the battles of war.
The Modern Greek dances consist of steps and forms dating back to the ancient ones. We should mention that the in Ancient Greece, dance was never regarded as feminine, on the contrary, men felt proud because they could honor their gods who had endowed them with flexibility and grace. When Christianity dominated, the church did not abolish this ancient custom.
In great feasts the faithful used to dance around the churches.
This dance at St. George’s feast at Archive, where he is honored as the patron Saint, is ‘Paniyiraki’ (means festival). It is a modest and temperate dance, with slowed, dragged steps. It is danced arm - in - arm, with the right-hand under the left. A basic element of paniyiraki is the honorary post of the old men that lead the dance.
The cutting of the water
The element of the legend, that the Saint saves the princess, so as to let town’s water to run free, has been passed on to the customs of St. George’s popular worship in the following way: During the festival people use to cut off the water of the cistern for people to drink. In Arachova when the singers of "Paniyiraki" reach the verse "Apola Draco to nero, na pyi to paniyiri" (O dragon let the water flow, so revelers may quaff it) they let the water flow again.
SOURCES: 1. Arahova History - Traditions, by Christos E. Mavropoulos.
2. Korikio Andro by Andreas L. Tsouras.
3. Background Music by Yiannis K. Siros.