New Year fires of Psarades

Bonfires are lit on New Year's Eve to welcome the New Year. An ancient Pagan (Dionysian) custom on the shore of a beautiful, serene and at the same time surreal small village.
Photography / Text: George Tatakis

I have been working on the Pagan Dionysian customs of Northern Greece during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany. Since I was in the area, I wanted to visit the two Prespa Lakes which have a great reputation for the landscape beauty. I am not too much of a landscape guy, but since I had a few spare days, I thought it might be a good idea. 

The visit was really worth it since the landscape is indeed surreal and beautiful. The serenity and calmness of the place really takes you over. I visited the small village of Psarades, which is the only village on the shore of the Great Prespa lake. This lake is shared between Greece, FYROM and Albania. 

The idea was to pay a small visit and leave on the same day, but I really fell in love with the place. To make things even better, there were some big wooden towers set on the shore of the lake and children were carrying branches and filling them up. I suspected they were up to something so I inquired. 

They said they were preparing the Fires. These are two bonfires that are lit on New Year's Eve to welcome the New Year. One of the towers was really high, probably around 30-40 meters from the ground, so that really looked like it would be interesting. 

Therefore the one day trip quickly changed to four days stay. During those days I enjoyed strolls along the lake, boat trips to the nearby caves and a very interesting visit to the Small Prespa lake and an island inside, Saint Achilles. This small island has many medieval ruins on it, even with an old ruined Cathedral. There are also many animals like sheep and pigs. 

I even came across some fishermen pulling their nets full of fish on the wooden bridge that connects the island of Saint Achilles to the mainland.

If you are visiting, make sure that you will have the local giant beans dish. The area is very famous for the production of giant beans. All dishes were actually magnificent and you can actually taste the lake fish which are very tasty and meaty. 

The children were very anxious to start the fires because last year they couldn't because of the rainy weather. If you want to see the fires, make sure that you visit a few days before, as the weather forecast might shift the date of the event by a few days. 

They were going to start two fires. A smaller one first and the huge one second. I arrived on time, but the children were too anxious to wait for the correct timing. I saw the small fire burning from afar. 

Everyone was standing around enjoying the fire, listening to the crackling sound of the fire, waiting for the tower to collapse. At last they could see the result of their effort. 

Soon after they started the big bonfire. They used wooden sticks with cloth wrapped around the top and lamp oil. 

The fire was soon lit and the burning was so intense that you could not stand to a radius of probably 30 meters away. Everyone enjoyed the magnificent fire and its warmth with music, food and Tsipouro (traditional alcoholic drink made by distilled grapes). 

The fire burned for over half an hour before collapsing. The wood was probably burning until the next morning. 

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New Year fires of Psarades

Unnamed Road Psarades
Prespes, Western Macedonia, Greece