On January 6th, the citizens of Litochoro in the district of Pieria in Northern Greece revived once again the “Custom of Sichna” to celebrate the Theophany.
Theophany is celebrated by the Greek Orthodox Church to commemorate the baptism of Jesus.
[Thanasis Tsifodimos, Mayor of Litochoro]:
“A custom that dates back 300 years, the ‘Custom of Sichna.’ We start from the two churches and end up at Enipeas canyon at a small tank with water that we call ‘Gourna’ in Litochoro. There, the priests throw a cross in the water and the young swimmers dive in to catch it.”
The word “Sichno” comes from the Latin word “Signum” which means sign or banner. The “Sichna” are tied to a long staff and they have upon them the Holy Cross. The preparation happens on the eve of Theophany.
The custom starts with the “Sichnoforous” which means those who hold the “Sichna”. The Sichna bearers walk down to the village square and then to Enipeas canyon which the locals call “Lakos.”
Next to the Enipeas river there is a small tank with cold water. After the “Sichnoforoi” go down there, the priests give blessings by throwing a cross in the water in remembrance of the baptism of Jesus. Young men dive into the tank to catch the cross and the lucky one who catches it receives all the blessings and a small present from his fellow citizens.
[George Pourliotis, Church Vicar Choral]:
“Young men of Litochoro dive into the cold water of the Enipeas river. The waters come from the peaks of Mount Olympus from the melted snow – so you can understand how cold the water is. The men try to find the cross and the lucky one will walk around town with the cross, usually for three days, and he will receive the relative tips.”
[Nikolaos Mitilineos, This year’s winner]:
“This is the fourth time that I have found the cross, it’s the third continuous time, and the first was a while back. This year the weather was very good, it wasn’t very cold but the water was freezing cold.”
NTD News, Greece