Friday, January 6, 2012

Epiphany or Dia de los Reyes Magos

The year started without a bang although there were many fireworks going off around the Tarpon.   Last year I was driving back to Collingswood for a short lived job.  Thankfully I was smarter this year and enjoyed the tropics to full hilt.  Although this Christmas was fairly mild everywhere, even Tryon NC only had a few days of coldish temperature and it was when I returned to Florida that I felt cold for the first time.  That quickly passed and  people returned to their winter outdoor activities.   As you can see from the image above all kinds of yoga/tai chi was taking place on paddle boards.  

This morning, during the prayer chants I was out reconnoitering where I would sit for the Epiphany celebration.  Just in case you don't know, Epiphany is the Greek  celebration when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.  In Cuba,  El Dia de los Reyes Mago marks  Epiphany as the celebration when the Magi guided by the star were said to have arrived to give the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus.  You figure it out. All I can tell you is that as a child I did not get my gifts until the 6 of January even though everyone had been partying since December 24. 

Tarpon Springs with its thousands of Greeks celebrates its New Year with this occasion and parties were going on all around me at homes and at the large St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral Community Center.  Yesterday the Archbishop was going around town blessing the ships, the fisherman, well you name it.  When I first moved here my neighbors told me that I lived in a very good spot and that I never need worry of hurricanes because I was in the Holy Triangle between the Spring Bayou, St. Michael Shrine across the street and St Nicholas two blocks away.  What can I tell you, I takes my blessing from anyone willing to give them!

This morning I was sitting with my friend and Minister as the people arrived by the thousands (25 to 30 thousand were expected) to claim a little bit of wharf, hillside or you name it.  My minister is a good Unitarian was shocked that people were to going to the front of the line to get their spots for the spectacle instead of fitting in respectfully amongst the people who had gotten there early and expected to see the event sitting down.  Very well dressed Greeks arrived in their glittery black finery to lay claims to the remaining spots usually walkways and block all those sitting down.  Those fortunate to know the owners of the bayou houses were escorted on to private docks where pushing was to a minimum.  The rest of us just sat in the slope waiting for the lions to come.  Finally, it did not really matter because when the procession arrived with the kids all stood up to see.

An assortment of evangelical Christians were running around with Jesus Saves signs.  I thought it was bit of like taking coals to Newcastle!  After waiting for about an hour, the procession arrived with the clergy, city officials and the youths which serve as part of ceremony.  This is primarily a male event with no girls allowed to swim.  Women libbers here is something to take on.  There is a young girl who releases a dove prior the 64 high school age boys take to the water.  These boys undergo a special catechism to prepare them for the cross retrieval ceremony.  

At some point the presiding priest gives a go ahead and the boys swim out a series of boats that are lined up around the promontory from where the Archbishop (I guess) throws the cross for them to retrieve.

This morning there was a mad dash for the boats and a bunch of boys capsized their boat and sat on it waiting for the cross.  Don't fear the water is not cold and is about 4 feet deep. As a matter of fact the event has to be timed to the high tide otherwise they would all wind up in a hospital with broken necks!  Today there was so much security you would think that a mad atheist like me was going to sabotage the whole thing.  Truly, there were more cops and sheriff boats than it was necessary, but the times they are ridiculous!  Kayakers came and could barely see due to the cordon of official boats protecting the youths.

These poor kids should have been more concerned about running into a small or a large manatee than anything else.  Well, then there is the crud on the bottom on the bayou that divers were cleaning out this week so these kids would not suffer a cut or something and get an infection.

The cross was finally thrown in and they went at it for about ten minutes with no finder.  In a rare upset a second cross was hurled into the water that was eventually caught by some boy.  

Someone came out victorious and the story goes that he who carries the cross out of the bayou will have a long and healthy life.  Let's hope so.  As there are few divers these days getting the bends which use to curtail the lifespan of the local sponge divers, we can be sure that they will indeed, have a longer and healthier life.

Just as fast as it started the crowds dispersed.  I was rooting for the smart kids that wanted a crack at the second cross that lay in the bayou.  I am not sure what happened to it as it was hot and I was hungry so I went to the Glendi Festival at the Community Center for a Gyro plate.  Well, I have now seen it and can refer our loving tourist to it in the future.  Next year I am heading straight for the Gyro Plate!  Chronia Polla (Happy New Year in Greek) and Happy Gardening to you! 

January 7 Update.  The newspaper this morning had this headline on the front page:  Two winners, no 3!  It appears that similar events have happened over the 106 years that the event has taken place.  As luck would have it one boy retrieved the second cross and another smallish 16 year old found the first one.  On the swim back a big 17 year old took it from him and lay claim to recovering the white cross (so much for the catechism training).  The Archbishop queried those concerned and gave all three rights to good luck.  Oh well, Christian charity!

January 10 Update.  This year may prove to be the most blessed people in the 106 year old history of the Epiphany celebration.  Another cross finder was deemed eligible for the blessings.  It seems that in our world where everyone has fancy cameras, phones and access to every sort of published media that people attending the celebrations filmed and posted to Youtube the celebrations and the fact that yet another child was beaten by his confreres when he surfaced with the second cross.  So in all, the newspaper reported this morning that not bowing to pressure from YouTube or anything the Archbishop was acknowledging a 4th recipient of the second  cross which was retrieved first.  If that is not complicated watch the following clip and you will see most of the event all in Greek!  Enjoy