On the stroke of January 6th, the "twelve days of Christmas" officially come to an end. This day takes on a special meaning in Greece and Cyprus. All over the world, the Greek orthodox observe the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist, in river Jordan. The Greek word for Epiphany is Theophania meaning the "appearance of God" referring to the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
In coastal areas, after church, on the morning of January 6, the priest goes to the nearest port or marina. Having blessed the waters, he throws a large cross into the sea. A group of young people brave the cold waters and dive into the sea trying to retrieve the cross. The one who gets it is the "winner" and is considered to be the lucky person of the year. You may think that Greece and Cyprus are warm countries but the sea can be really chilly even on a sunny day. After the diving, many fishermen bring their boats to the port to be blessed by the priest. Theophania (Epiphany) is also called Fota meaning light relating to the day being a Feast of Light since Jesus Christ for the Greek Orthodox is the only true light.
Many wicked spirits, elves or goblins called kalikantzaroi are said to be active during the twelve days of Christmas and haunt people's homes. Tradition has it that some xerotiana (doughnuts) or sausages are thrown to the roof of houses to banish these spirits for the rest of the year. In many villages children go from door to door singing the Epiphany Jingles and asking for a last holiday gift which is invariably some money - called pouloustrina in Cyprus - and , of course some loukoumades - traditional Greek doughnuts. In Cyprus, Larnaca boasts the best loukoumades and siamishi on the island and everyone must have some after the festive lunch.
This post, slightly edited, was originally published on January 6, 2011