Customs & Festivities
In Syra, more than one and a half century, two different worlds, two separated societies with completely different habits and perceptions forced, in a violent way, to coexist on a common island. The wave of refugees from different parts of Greece that flooded the island, was mainly consisted by hard-working experienced sailors, workers, craftsmen and merchants who in a very short time adapted and flourished in this new home.
Two worlds met and accepted each other’s particularities with further purpose the normal symbiosis. The foreign element settled and built an almost new city in the area around the port. The old, mainly agricultural, society of the island that was scattered in countries and fields received influences and accepted some new foreign habits and changed some customs little by little as time went by, enforcedly and almost without a notice. Of course, the one and most particular difference between these two worlds that even nowadays mentally separates the Syrians is the religious sentiment and the dogma. The old habitants were almost in their whole, Catholics while the new ones have ever been Orthodox.
It is worth to mention that these two communities began to have contact and develop relations just after the second half of the last century. It was the same period when habitants of Ermoupoli began to spread their wings and build big and enviable cottages in places of the Syrian countryside, such as Delagratsia, Chrousa, Parakopi, Piskopio and other inland places that were under the catholic regime. Little by little a great part of Francosyrians was enrolled in the workers of the enterprises that were then functioning in Ermoupoli or in the crews of the shipping companies that had their headquarters there. The consequence was the acceptance from both sides of the cultural and social changes that occurred.
Of course, there have always been and still exist, the separations between these two communities that caused in the dogma difference. However, nowadays we see an expansion of this religious polarity. A vivid example is that in the present, catholic and orthodox habitants of Apano Chora and Ermoupoli celebrate together the great moments of Christianity and especially Easter.
The great flourish of the land and the prosperity of its habitants; subsequently created an easy living, energetic society that was always taking its distances from the traditional social limits. This society, true child of a well organized and wealth urban center, in the peak of its prosperity, restricts little by little to the minimum the popular traditions, habits and behaviors of the catholic agricultural communities, influenced their dialect and generally overcame them by all means and thanks to the weapons it had from the continuous flourish and dependence from the «city».
So nowadays, one can observe very few samples of local traditions surviving on the island, though the rich folklore inheritance. Some local catholic celebrations, such as the great Ag. Anargyroi fair on September the 27th still occurs on Apano Meria just 4, 5 km far from Ano Syra. Once, it was the most famous fair because of the number of believers-pilgrims, its authenticity and its vividness. Also, the Phaneromeni fair in the below villages near the Ano Manna settlement that celebrates on September the 24th. In the Ag. Triada fair, when the small chapel on a rock north of the Azolimnos beach celebrates, happens a nice fair with festivities, eating, drinking and dance. In Vari, on August the 15th occurs a great fair that combines the celebration of Panagia and the welcoming of tourists in the bay. Many boats decorated with flowers participate. The Ag. Stefanos fair in Galissas on August the 29th as well as the one of Ag. Pakous in Galissas on November the 21st consist a special experience for the pilgrims-visitors
Besides the fairs that try to keep lit the flame of their popular traditions, Syrians also try to bring back to life some of the popular civilization memories by festivities, as the famous Apano Chora Carnival revival as well as the choirosfagia with their roots in the very old times.
Choirosfagia take place with every detail according to the old ritual, especially in the villages Pagos, Danakos, Agros and other agricultural villages of inland. Choirosfagia includes the pork breed, its butchery just before Christmas, its cutting up in many pieces and the preparation of many local recipes that will manage to feed the family in winter. Sausages, Louza, glyna and pichti are some of them. It is more than certain that choirosfagia are always accompanied by drinking, eating and dancing with music till dawn.
In contrast to Ano Syra, Ermoupoli created a particular, for the greek facts of that time, life style and gave the opportunity to its people to have contact with knowledge and to develop their abilities, and created the opportunities to others to get advantage of the «daimonio» even if they did not have the elementary education.
The European habits and the luxury formed and established the society differences and behaviors. Clubs pop out everywhere of artistic, literary or spiritual interest. Charitable and professional associations, artistic and theatrical societies, public appearances, evening parties and gatherings in houses or wherever they used to celebrate in big companies, the everyday afternoon strokes on the shore or on the square with an official air, the elegance and the possibility of women to follow and adapt the modern fashion, and the men’s love for hunting are some of the elements that indicate the pleasure of Syrians to the social activities and to the political and public life.
Theater is one of the most important cultural elements of the city and holds an eminent place in public life. The theatrical activity in the island existed long before the Apollo theater construction. The first local theatrical association was established in 1830. Evanthia Kairi, great personality of that era who lived in Ermoupoli, writes her first play and organizes the first theatrical performances since 1827 with great success.
The citizens of Ermoupoli adapted and loved theater very much. The theater knew its peak in 1864 with the official opening of Apollo theatre, where great plays of distinguished artists were presented. In 1866 a Greek theatrical company put on stage a play and afterwards numerous plays, theatrical successes and operas. Apollo Theater in 1927 offered hospitality, with great success, to Marika Kotopouli and other famous actors of the time. That period function at the same time three summer theaters with similar success. Marika Kotopouli was the actress that marked Apollo theatre last performance in 1953 that after the german occupation, almost destroyed, lost its splendor and vividness.
We must also mention the Ag. Aloisios Youth Association great contribution to the development of theater in Syros and that it began in 1955 with organized theatrical activity thanks to the Jesuits’ Monastery Headman initiative and the formation of «Ag. Aloisios Youth Association».
Music has always been for Syrians one of their favorite activities. Music education is grown intensely by philharmonic companies and associations under remarkable teachers. In 1894 is formed the famous city band that was giving outdoor performances to the audience of Ermoupoli on its permanent hedron, the marble platform on the central square where still dominates yet in silence.
There was also a development of the Theater of Shadows with remarkable players, of wood curving, of fine arts and especially of the art of popular signboards.
On the opposite, in Ano Syra and the Syrian countryside dominated the traditional musical sounds that survived through the centuries, accompanied by traditional instruments, like bagpipes and toumpi. Sounds that even now we can hear playing wildly in the rhythm of syrtos and balos during the various fairs, the choirosfagia or the Carnival in Chora. Also, we must not forget that here was born and raised a great member of the Rempetiko, under the form we know it in the present. We must not forget that before 1922 rempetiko, as a popular musical rhythm, was the expression of an outcast and reactionary way of the last century poor people in their effort to express and face their hard way of living.
The popular troubadour of Syros Markos Vamvakaris, the composer of the famous song «Francosyriani», is the one who, through his work influenced by the traditional popular syrian music and the Byzantine and eastern hearings, raised rempetiko to a musical form with Pan-Hellenic response.
Modern Syrians are an affable, helpful and kind people to the foreign visitors. Being seamen with such a prehistory, they are familiar to the watery element and it is not an exaggeration if we say that many families have in their properties private vessels. In parallel, the rich commercial tradition they have, has given the market of Syros a plenitude look thanks to the shops with many articles and the traditional products.
Everyone knows the famous loukoumia, the «Mpoukies of Syros» or the tasteful Halva pies» that they have a history of centuries since they have sealed savourily the island in 1840 and consist its international trade mark. Do not forget to pay attention to the cheese products of the island that surely offer a great variety, as the sweet cow milk gruyere, the kopanisti, the fresh myzithra, the petrota and above all the famous Sa Michali cheese. The latter is a cow milk table cheese with somehow piquant taste. The cheeses, the kopanisti, the fresh milk and the thyme honey are some of the local products one can find in abundance in the syrian market.
The old small taverns (koutoukia) and the traditional taverns in the narrow streets of Ano Syra and Ermoupoli, gain little by little some of the old reputation and there one can try some of the most known and tasteful dishes (mezedes), such as the traditional Louza, the pichti, the local sausage, the dry caper that cooked with tomato accompanies perfectly the fried safridi or kolios and is a special delicacy for those who prefer fish. There, exists always the possibility to meet amateurs playing bouzouki, accordion and guitar.