This festival is taking place twice a year in the historic city of Missolonghi and more specifically in the monastery of Saint Simeon. The summer one is taking place during the day of the Holy Spirit, which is a national holiday and lasts for 3 consequent days. The winter one is taking place on February 2 and 3, which are the name days of Ipapantis and Saint Simeon respectively.
Missolonghi is about three hours drive from Athens and since I also have many friends over there I like to visit the place in any chance given. They also produce a delicious local Ouzo and the famous Greek Avgotaraho (known as Bottarga, cured Grey Mullet roe). This is a rather expensive gourmet delicacy and one of the best quality in the world is produced here.
Avgotaraho: “Tasting a single slice, will cause a velvety explosion of fruits and the sea in your mouth-combined with a spicy whiff- that will reach the utmost parts of your brain.
…a long lasting sensation…”
SIMOS GEORGOPOULOS, Journalist
The festival is closely connected to the years of Turkish rule and the heroic exit of the people of Missolonghi. The groups of the arms bearers, wearing the local costume, known as Ntoulamas as well as the horse riders are the heart of the festival. People are mostly wearing the costumes during the summer festival rather than during the winter one.
A great parade with horses and their riders takes place, starting from the city's Cathedral Saint Spiridon. The arm bearers follow the horses and they all march to the Heroes square (Plateia Iroon) where a memorial takes place and then proceed to the exit of the city. They will take the road to Saint Simeon monastery.
The groups of musician Roma people are present as in every Saint Simeon festival, playing the drum and Zournas (a traditional wind instrument). You can hear Dionysian ecstatic sounds during all day that, together with alcohol drinking take you to another state of mind.
When everyone arrives in Saint Simeon, a full night party takes place until the Morning Mass. It is of great interest the fact that the locals in order to pay for the musicians are throwing US dollars at them. The reason is that tradition dictates they have to throw cash notes. When Drachma was around that was ok, but now we have the Euro and the smallest note is the fiver. Therefore they exchange their money for one-dollar bills, in order to be able to throw more.
Musicians get bills thrown at them and because the five Euro one is to much, they get one-dollar bills instead.
During the Morning Mass, the music pauses, in order for the Mass to take place and the Memorial to the Great Cross is performed. After that, mass baptisms of Roma children take place. Boys are baptized separately from the girls. After the church ends, the party starts and goes on until Tuesday morning.