The feast of Saint John Riganas and summer solstice

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    Spending summer holidays as a kid in a rural town of the Greek countryside in the 80’s, proved to be beneficial in offering rich cultural experiences I would never have been exposed to otherwise. Life and social conditions have changed in Greece since and a lot of customs and traditions have disappeared. I didn’t realize it back then, but those days offered an important glimpse into the Mediterranean culture and lifestyle.

    These are traditions that survived thousands of years, delivered from generation to generation. Their decline came with modern urbanization, along with a highly “westernized” easy-living lifestyle and the various sociopolitical factors.

    Those days, neighborhoods were roaming with kids playing outside. Today you rarely find any kids playing outdoors, especially without parental supervision. The rise in crime, the loss of social cohesiveness, the lack of a community trust and the impact of the adaptation of new technologies like mobile phones, the Internet, social media and video games, all contributed to fast and fundamental social changes.

    Reminiscent of those carefree summers I remember this time of the year, the summer solstice and the eve of the 24th of June, the feast of Saint John’s Riganas (or Klidonas) day (the Baptist – The Prodromos). We would gather at the crossroads lighting bonfires and jumping over them while making wishes. We would also compete with the kids of nearby crossroads for who had lit the biggest bonfire.

    She would cut a few slices of bread and toast them near the bonfire. Then she would squeeze fresh tomatoes on the slices and pour on them some of our home made extra virgin olive oil, sprinkling it with oregano gathered earlier during the feast. We call it “babanatsa”

    But it wasn’t just a game for kids. Grown-ups would also participate after letting us compete. Even the elderly. It was a custom dating back to ancient times. Jumping over the bonfire for good health and celebrating summer! A process believed to bring about purification that frees from evil for all who participated. It is in these bonfires that people also burn the wreaths made of flowers celebrating May day.

    A Saint John’s Klidonas feast organised by ΑΝΙΜΑ, Περπερούνα (cultural & dancing society) and the NGO European Village at Plato’s Academy. Source: LIFEEDITE

    Riganas or Klidonas

    It is called Riganas, from the Greek word for oregano, because there was another tradition for oregano gathered on that day being special.

    Furthermore, the feast was associated with oracles and predictions. That is why it is also called Klidonas. Derived from the ancient Greek word “κλήδων” meaning the predictive sound that was used to describe the combination of random and incoherent words during a divination ceremony.

    The predictions

    On that same day, the unmarried young women would bring from the well the “speechless water”. Its name referred to the obligation the girls had not to speak while carrying the water home. Then they would each place a personal item in the clay pot with the water, cover it with a red cloth and pray to Saint John. At night, in their dreams, the Saint would reveal to them their future husbands.

    The Babanatsa

    Of course, after all that bonfire jumping, we would get hungry. I remember grandma always showing up with her whole wheat bread that she baked in her outdoor traditional oven. She would cut a few slices of bread and toast them near the bonfire. Then she would squeeze fresh tomatoes on the slices and pour on them some of our home made extra virgin olive oil, sprinkling it with oregano gathered earlier during the feast. We call it “babanatsa” and I assure you it is one of the most delicious snacks you can have! Especially if you try it with Feta cheese and olives!

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