The Serifians manage to keep their traditions and customs intact, preserving the traditional Cycladic character of the island.
Throughout the year more than thirty folklore festivals take place –a timeless type of amusement and religious worship, deeply rooted to the island’s folk tradition. In these feasts the visitors eat, drink and have fun, as they honor the local saints. The festivals are organized by the “owners” (“ktitores”, /’ktitorεs/) of every church, who take care of all the necessary preparations. The most important, among them, is the food, which usually is cooked lamb, fava (split peas) and potatoes, served for free to the visitors, along with local Serifian wine.
Along with the arrival of Spring, the last Sunday of the Carnival, the feast of Capetania takes place. The ritual seems to have roots in the 16th century and until 1821 it was called “lolopanigyro” (/lolopα’nigiro/ or “the cuckoo-feast”).
It changed its name to “Capetania” after the Greek liberation struggles, influenced by the Peloponnesian captains who settled on the island.
During this feast, the Serifians split in two teams, each electing a captain. Then the captain got together his team and its instrumentalists, while different roles were distributed to the other members of the team, such as the captain’s wife, the flag bearer, the guard and the fighters. The purpose of the two teams was to re-enact a fake war between the Greeks and an -different each time- “enemy” (Turks, Egyptians, Trojans etc.).
This theatrical clash was taking place outside the Monastery of Taxiarches, in which all of the attendants entered at the end of the feast, to worship. The monks offered them food and wine and, to reciprocate, the teams came back a week later, to help the monks cultivate the vines of the Monastery.
As time went by quite a few variations took place in the procedure of the feast – until it was almost extinct. However, the persistence of the Serifian Women’s Association “Andromeda” revived the custom in 2003, actively contributing to its planning in every Carnival ever since. Serifos becomes full of masqueraders, laughs and yells again, while groups of people parade all around the island’s villages and in front of Taxiarches’ Monastery, accompanied by traditional music.
At the same period another custom, the “maskaries” (/mαskαri’εs/), also takes place, with small groups of people masquerading, wearing carnival masks (“moutsounes”), and wondering around the feasts, teasing visitors and the rest of the residents, who in turn try to recognize them.
Easter (Epitaph & Resurrection)
The Serifians follow all the Easter traditions, but the one that clearly singles out is the procession of the Epitaphs of Ano and Kato Chora through the narrow paved alleyways.
The Resurrection in Mega Livadi and Koutalas takes place early on Saturday night, in Livadi and Panagia at 22.00, whereas in the Monastery of Taxiarches and the churches of Chora (Saint Athanasios and Evangelistria) at twelve midnight. In Evangelistria and the Monastery the tradition of “Arate Pylas” (Lift the Gates) is respected, with the congregation asked to step out to the forecourt as soon as they receive the Holy Light, and the gates of the church closing behind them. After the “Christos Anesti” (Christ is Risen hymn) the priest chants the lyrics of David, enacting Christ at the Gates of Hell. The chanter responds to these lyrics from inside the church, as he tries to block his entrance, pretending to be the devil. The “Arate Pylas” is repeated three times – the third time the priest pushes the gates wide open and enters the church along with the crowd, in order for the Mass to continue.
Another beautiful custom of Serifos, which was nearly extinct, is the Kounies (Swings) which takes place in the morning of Easter Sunday. A large wooden swing is hanged by the so-called “kounistis” (swinger), at a small alley of some village, and is embellished with blooming spring flowers. After the priest chants the “Christos Anesti” of the second Resurrection, the swinger swings the bystanders in couples, while the rest of the crowd exchanges wishes and sings traditional quatrains – or improvise mocking quatrains for the couple that swings at the time. The fee of the swinger usually contains red Easter eggs and cookies, though some used to give some money, too.
Swing us, swinger, well,
and I will pay you,
I’ll take out of my pocket,
gold coins to give you.
The custom started as a means of entertainment and, before the occupation years, many swings used to hang on Easter Sunday in different villages of the island. However, the Kounies got abandoned ever since, but not until its sporadic reappearance, in the 1980s and its establishment as a yearly event, since 2011. The place where the swing will be hanged each year is announced a few days prior.
Dance and Music
Serifos maintains its own music and dance style. Some very old traditional instruments are the “souravli” (/sou’rαvli/) and the “toumpi” (/tou’mpi), which were crafted with artistry only by a few local craftsmen. Later on, the violins and the lutes were added.
One of the most significant dances is the “syrtos” (/sir’tos/), which is danced by three men and two women and is always completed by the dance of “ballos” (/’bαlos/). A very special dance is “malakos” (/mαlα’kos/) -slow, humble and circular- with its direction changing each time the band plays a particular spin.
These dances, along with the “kalamatianos” (/kαlαmαtiα’nos/), accompany some of the most popular traditional songs of Serifos, such as the “Trechantiraki”, the “Pergantis”, “Batarolos”, the “Sweet Bournovalia”, the homonymous “Malakos” and “Kalinyhtia”.
At the Carnival people dance the “apokrian dance”, which is accompanied just by vocals, without any instruments.
The traditional costumes of the Serifians are distinguished between the casual and the formal (“the good one”). The ladies’ costume consists of a skirt, a jacket or a shirt, an apron, a “mayolika” (a white headscarf) and the hood, which is worn during agricultural work. The shades of the elders’ costumes are darker. Τhe male costume consists of the “vraka” (trousers) with a girdle, a shirt, a vest, socks and spats, a scarf for the neck and the “kalpaki”, a round hat made of cloth. The formal costume is usually made of a different weave and is more elaborately stitched than the everyday one. The traditional costumes of Serifos are exhibited in the Folklore Museum of Serifos, in Kato Chora.