Winter festival of Saint Simeon

An ecstatic festival of drinking and dancing to Dionysian rhythms takes place in the historic city of Missolonghi.
Photography / Text: George Tatakis

This festival is taking place twice a year in the historic city of Missolonghi and more specifically in the monastery of Saint Simeon. The winter one is taking place on February 2 and 3, which are the name days of Ipapantis and Saint Simeon respectively. The summer one is taking place during the day of the Holy Spirit, which is a national holiday and lasts for 3 consequent days. 

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…”


In Missolonghi you can also see the beautiful lagoon that many birds live and there is also a place with wooden homes build on top of it. 

You will also get the chance, if travelling by car from Athens, to go through the bridge of Rio - Antirio, that connects Peloponnese to the mainland. A bridge very famous among engineers about the construction difficulties and the innovations for overcoming several problems caused by nature.

Going back to the festival, this 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.

Being a visitor, the winter festival is much different than the summer one, in the sense that it is more 'closed'. There is no grand parade with everyone dressed and too many horses. You might see some of the locals dressed traditionally and certainly a few horses but the winter festival is mostly about memories, enjoying and dancing. 

Winter festival is all about meeting friends, enjoying over dinner table with singing and dancing.

More than that, all the fun around the monastery of Saint Simeon takes place behind closed doors, inside the hats built around the monastery. That means that you have to enter inside and if being a photographer, you need to gain their trust first before taking out the camera. Wish them about the day, sit around a table, have some treats and after a while you are good to go. 

If you want to take pictures, remember, meet first, photograph later.

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 may take place. This year that was not the case as an unfortunate event occurred on the second day, so all further celebrations had to cease. One of the participants had suffered a heart attack so the party ended sooner than natural.

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Winter festival of Saint Simeon

Epar.Od. Mesologgiou - Agiou Simeon Ag. Simeon
Iera Poli Messologgiou, Western Greece, Greece