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A cousin sent me Facebook greetings for the New Year and included a recording of the old “kalanda” from some gathering long ago in Chios.
According to Myparea blog, the singing of “kalanda,” carols, goes back to ancient times when “children would carry small boats (“karavaki meaning little ship”) and sing songs honoring Dionysus…Greek Christmas carols date back to Byzantine times.”
And then the kids would be invited in for sweets and refreshment, which happened in Chios, when I was growing up there, especially up in the villages. And the adults sang as lustily as the kids, and got the same sweets, but stronger refreshments. “Na sta vrontixome?” I remember them asking.
Nowadays, we sing the carols traditionally on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and Epiphany Eve on January 5. The kids, and adults, get invited in (usually they’re at the relatives), and the traditional cookies and treats are offered and the celebration might last through visit. In the old days, they used to play the triangle to accompany the singing, or bang a drum (I remember the drumming on a ceramic drum with a skin on top in Chios) and the song I remember most is “Antiminia, antihronia…”, which is all I remember of the lyrics.
Listening to the recording, brought back haunting memories, of a life gone by in many parts of Greece. The last time I was in Chios a few years ago, there was a wedding going on while we were strolling in the “prokimaia” and men on horseback came thundering by accompanying the procession and—shooting guns!: a relic of the past, which I didn’t see even up in the mountains, brought to faithful life today.
But then again the “prokimaia” was also overrun by day tourists from Turkey, who had taken the ferry across for a meal, by tourists from Germany and England and the Netherlands, who occupied most of the resorts during the season, and delivery boys and cashiers who were Filipino—but spoke pretty passable Greek. One of the stewards on the ferry to Chios from Athens, spoke Greek better than I did. “Afendi,” he said to me, certainly a relic of the past, “the world is a bigger place now!”
I have a cousin in Boston who every year joins his whole family on a round of “kalanda” through his Brahmin neighborhood: I’m sure they don’t sing the old songs from Greece—but they sing the “kalanda” faithfully, and “kalanda” singing is not exclusive to Greece, of course. Every Hallmark movie you see on TV (and we became addicted to them during the holiday as a balm from the usual news of the world) showed the hero and the heroine wearing cute winter sweaters and hats while they joined all the other townspeople of their perfect little town in their perfect little world knocking on doors and seeing happy faces and singing their Christmas carols. Surprisingly, it was very much like the festive mood of the villages and towns back in Greece during the holiday when the singing of the “kalanda” brought everybody together.
Happy and Healthy New Year!
Dimitri C. Michalakis