On the Epiphany, a Greek Orthodox holiday called Ta Fota, men dive into the chilly sea to swim to race to something of meaning. I found out why on the Greek island of Serifos.
Ta Fota Traditions in Greece
The Epiphany or Ta Fota takes place each year on the 6th of January, a day to commemorate Christ’s baptism. The day is a Greek national and church holiday.
In a ceremony called the Blessing of the Waters, a Greek Orthodox priest flings a wooden cross into the sea. It doesn’t just end there. Swimmers dive on in after it, racing in the chilly waters to be the first to retrieve it. All over the country, different towns and cities organize a local event.
Ta Fota on Serifos Island
Without the busy hum of tourist season, Serifos was like most Greek islands — in a sleepy state. The Fota brought a bit of commotion right in the middle of it.
Parade to the Port
Under grey winter skies and a stiff chill in the air, a good number of the island’s year round locals paraded behind the priest to the port. It was time to watch the race for the cross.
Blessing of the Waters
At the port’s edge, the priest said a few prayers. Two Serifians, Yiannis and Aggelos, dressed down to their swim trunks, poised for the jump.
After the priest threw the cross, they dove into the cold sea and raced for a few minutes. More ceremony than anything, they both held onto it in the water –somewhat sharing the coveted “prize.” Tradition has it that the person who grabs the cross first gets the priest’s blessing for the year as well as good luck.
They both kissed the cross and swam back up to the port to the delighted applause of the crowd. Afterwards, a small party took place at a tiny whitewashed church near the port.
Ta Fota: The Epiphany on the Greek Islands
I enjoyed seeing the little island community come together for something so traditional and full of meaning in their culture.
If you happen to be traveling in Greece during this day, be sure to head out to a local Epiphany celebration. In Athens, a huge gathering flocks to the port of Piraeus in the morning.
Facts About the Greek Epiphany
- The word Epiphany comes from Greek and means manifestation.
- In the Greek Orthodox Church, Epiphany is celebrated as the revelation of Christ as the messiah.
- Besides Epiphany and Ta Fota, it is also known as Theofania which means vision of God.
- Christians around the world annually celebrate Epiphany on January 6th in different ways and various customs have endured for centuries. It is known as Three Kings Day in the Western Church.
How to Get to Serifos
To get to the Greek islands, many international travelers arrive by air, usually with a change in Athens or another major city. There are some direct seasonal flights to certain island destinations too. You can find the best flight deals with Vayama.
The only way to travel to Serifos is by ferry or private boat/yacht from the port of Piraeus in Athens. The island does not have an airport.
The frequency of ferries depends on the season. Ferries leave from the port of Piraeus in Athens. The trip lasts anywhere from 2.5 to 5.5 hours, depending on if you book a seat on a fast or slow ferry. For updated ferry schedules check www.openseas.gr. I usually take the SpeedRunner which is about a 2.5 hour journey (45-50 Euro each way).
There are regular connections to the other west Cyclades, including Milos, Kythnos and Sifnos.
Where to Stay in Serifos
Boutique: Rizes Hotel is a four-star hotel with a beautiful pool, individual plunge pools, a great view, excellent buffet breakfast and a beautiful view to the Chora and the Aegean Sea. From €100 a night, depending on the season. Coco-Mat, the luxury Greek brand, also has a small boutique hotel right on Vagia beach.
Mid-Range: The Livadi is ideal for a convenient stay, especially for those without a car. You’d be within walking distance to everything: beaches, eateries, nightlife and the ferries. For an atmospheric apartment stay with lovely amenities, I recommend Indigo. From €80 a night, depending on the season.
Basic: For a basic clean rooms, no frills, I recommend Ms. Lambrini’s Cavo d’Oro (+30 2281 051160). From €50 a night, depending on the season.
Where to Eat on Serifos
For a rundown of the eateries in Serifos, check out my post the Best Restaurants in Serifos.
What to Do on Serifos
Serifos is a nature lovers dream. There are many beautiful beaches, hiking trails and a fantastic main town to explore. I frequent this island the most so I have tons of posts about everything Serifos on this blog.
For more about Serifos, especially during the summer season, check out my Serifos page on this blog dedicated to travel to this beautiful Cycladic island.
Have you ever attended a Greek Epiphany celebration where you are in the world?