The custom of Gynaecocracy in the Villages of Monoklisia, N. Petra and A. Kamila, and Anastenaria from the Village of St. Eleni are very well known all over Greece.
A large number of visitors, Greek and foreign reporters visit the Prefecture on the 8th of January every year, to watch from a close distance the new "Amazons" receiving the key of the village for one day.
The married women elect a woman as a chairperson, whose term of office lasts for four years. Then they elect the rest of the members of the Board, which also consists of women. All the positions are occupied by women that day. You encounter a role of reversal in society; a traffic policewoman, a post woman etc. The men are occupied with housework; they wash the clothes, do the ironing, look after the children and in general they wear the housewife's apron and they are busy in the house, which is left in a complete mess by the wives.
So, while the husbands are busy with the housework the wives are holding a "session" at the coffee house. They are smoking, playing cards and enjoying themselves until the early hours. None of the men are allowed to take part in the festivities. If one of them dares to appear the least that is going to happen to him is to get drenched with water.
This is a Thracian custom and it was brought here by the Thracian refugees. Another name for this custom is the festivity of "Babo" and also "vrexoudio" because on that day the men who dare to go out of the house get completely wet. This custom is a distant recall of the primitive period's matriarchal spirit which was obvious in the religion of people from Asia Minor from the Prehistoric period. Most probably it influenced the northern areas (Thrace) and was slightly preserved in life.
Lately, the custom adopted a particular festive style and became a real touristic attraction with its "Dionysus style" celebrations, in which women play the main roles.
The village of St. Eleni is very well-known for "Anastenaria" a festivity that is celebrated in bacchic greatness on 21st May, the day of St. Constantine and Eleni. Anastenaria is of great interest both from the folklore and religious points of view, because this festivity managed to preserve devotional elements from the ancient worship of Dionysus. This custom has been brought from Thrace and to be more specific, from some isolated Thracian villages, which remained unaffected by the influence of modern civilization.
The believers of the peculiar worship managed to preserve the Dionysian worship by using extremely primitive elements.
Anastenarides,the modern Bacchus-Christians who live in small societies, create a special class, an "order" we could say, similar to the Dionysian "ancient troops". These people hardly ever go to church but they own private temples called "Konaki" (lod-ging).Their top leader is "Saint's anastenariko icon" and their top prelate is Archianastenaris, who is a diviner, exorcist, therapist, and founder of temples and houses.
The unique custom of Firewalking or Anastenaria includes many different and interesting rites and mystagogies such as:
ceremonial animal sacrifice, inspired by God mystic's ecstasy, fire walking of the inspired. The ceremony starts on 20th May with animal sacrifices and the transfer of the icons from the village's church to "Konaki", where sleeplessness and general preparation takes place.
In the morning of the 21 St May, Anastenarides bring the bell-icons to Agiasma, a holy place in a small wood. These icons, which are called "Hares", portray the holy couple of St. Constantine and St. Eleni. According to Anastenarides, it's the "Hares" icons which give them the ability to walk on fire.
In the afternoon of the 21st May the first fire walking takes place, leaving all the spectators speechless. The holy fire is lit by a particular mystic, who is entitled to it because of an ancestral heritage. When the fire settles down and a thick coal fire has formed, they call Anastenarides who appears in pomp and they start dancing in a circle around the holy coal fire, while the music exasperates the soul, increases the rhythm and the volume.
The sonorous drum "whips" Anastenarides' nerves and in a stimulating rhythm, which keeps on precipitating, leads the mystics to ecstasy. In a while the Saint shows the way and the first mystic occupied by the holy mania, walks barefoot on the coal fire and dances while he holds an icon or a holy hanky. The mystic's body is not harmed in any way during that time and that's because of a chemical reaction which remains unknown to science. This no burning phenomenon which is found all over the world and during the centuries, remains a mystery that still needs to be solved. Based on a religious opinion, fire walking is based on the faith of duality.
Anastenarides believe that they vanish the Evil spirit with the help of the fire walking and to be more specific, with the help of the Saint, the representative of the Good spirit.
In general, this Thracian worship, which has been preserved from the Ancient times, preserves many remains of the Dionysian worship and proves the uninterrupted continuation of dionysiasm until today. In other words, it is a Christianised form of the very old worship of Dionysus.
Kalogeros (the Monk) is another Thracian custom which takes place in the village of St. Eleni on Quinquagesima Monday. This festivity is presented by Anasterides, too. But this time, there are also mimes who create the troupe: the king, the prince, the halter maker, the monk, the bride, the decrepit woman with the premature baby, the gipsies with the bear and finally the Kouroutzidis (guards).
As soon as the troupe has visited all the village's houses, the inhabitants gather in the square, where the preparation of the symbolic field for the sowing takes place and the very important scene of the death and resurrection of the Monk. As soon as the Monk's resurrection is announced, the troupe starts dancing in a circle, round the symbolical strewn field, with the king as the leader of the dance. After the end of the dance Anastenaris gives his blessing to the people who start leaving.
This Thracian worship, also includes elements of the ancient Dionysiasm.
Klidonas is a custom that originates from the ancient times, when "Klidona" was prevalent. Klidona means rambling words and incoherent actions, which were heard or seen during oracular ceremonies which were of prophetic importance. In the neohellenic perception this custom was developed in a beautiful and interesting rite, preserving the erotic oracles. The custom of Klidonas becomes alive on St. John's day, which is on 24th June, and fits in with the sun's summer change, whose power reveals the future, according to the dull memories of the past.
The festivity begins the day before the 24th of June with big fires which even children jump over. Afterwards, the unmarried women bring the "speechless water" from the well and empty it in "gragouda" (earth ware jug) together with a "rizikari", a personal and usually valuable object. Then they cover "gragouda" and leave it under the clear sky for the night. Finally, they all go to bed and dream of the man they are going to get married to.
The following day they open gragouda while they are singing. The women take back their personal objects while they listen to a couplet which has some kind of meaning for the lady's "riziko"(destiny). By the time the women have finished collecting their belongings, the sun sets and every girl fills her mouth with a sip of "speechless water", stands in front of her window and waits until she hears the first male name. It is believed that this is going to be the name of her future husband.
There are many more festivities that gather the inhabitants of the Prefecture of Serres in the specific places, such as: Zamantas celebrated the day of the Source of Life, in Pentapolis; the killing of the Dragon on St George day, in N. Souli; the Matiasma the night of the Carnival festivities, in Emm. Papas; the celebration for the Immigrants the last Saturday of July, in Vamvakofito; the Asperges of the Bean Soup on Shrove Monday, where they offer mess to the visitors; the Pilgrimage in the Monastery of St. John the Baptist , a custom that has been alive for the past 200 years; the celebration for Cherries in Anastasia; the wonderful celebration of the Fifteenth of August with a reconstruction of a shepherd's wedding in Lailias; "Eleftheria" in Serres and Sidirokastro on 22nd and 27th June; the Cultural August in Heraklia; the wine celebration in Ampelous; the "Gefyroudians" in Gefyroudi and many others.
Gerakina, who is well-known all over Greece, originates from Nigrita and her song is a pan Hellenic anthem of the Muse.
According to tradition, Gerakina lived around 1850-1870 in a house in Nigrita, in the picturesque area called "Tsoukalades". She was extremely beautiful and so a coveted bride to be. Every man was trying to sweep her of her feet. However, "Death" was very jealous of her beauty and came too early to take her with him. So, one early afternoon while the table was set for lunch, Geragina went together with her "pitcher" to bring water from the well. As soon as she threw her "bucket" into the well, she lost her balance and fell in the well, too. According to the song's lyrics, on hearing her screams, "young and old rushed over" and among them a brave man, who didn't hesitate to climb into the well in order to rescue his beloved one. Some time later though, they pulled them both out of the well. The young man was almost dead and Gerakin "dead". The well of Gerakina, which is still preserved in Nigrita (at the area of "Tsoukalades") is the last witness of this tradition. A few years later, in a coffee house in Nigrita, a poet and singer, made the story of Gerakina into a song. Since then, Gerakina as a song and dance passed over to eternity and didn't take her long to walk over the limits of Nigrita and become famous all over Greece.
The Cultural Association of Nigrita, after taking the initiative, has decided to celebrate "Gerakinia" every year during Easter. It is a Festivity in memory of Gerakina. This wonderful celebration, which has become an institution for Nigrita, has given a nice Cultural stigma in the town, attracting lots of visitors every year.