A traditional New Year's Eve Custom in Chios Private collection.
A miniature ship of which many are build for New Year's Eve in Chios.

Editor's note:  Every sunday, we want to give you a break from all the political and economical issues that are discussed on One Europe. This time, our author George Chatzelenis tells us about a special custom from Chios, a greek island.

On the island of Chios, Greece, there is a New Year’s Eve custom called “Ta agiovasilitika karavakia”. According to that, the parishes of the islans build, relying on a model, miniatures of war or commercial ships. These ships compete with each other concerning the quality of the work and the similarity to the real ships, while the crew of each ship sings the particular carols.

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Since the Balkanian Wars and the liberation of the island in 1912 (and the formal annexation to Greece in 1913) this custom was extended with special features which have survived and are further developed up to our days.

Especially in the decade 1912-1922 and because of the heroic historical coincidence that took place, the paper ships were transformed into tin and later into τενεκεδένιο, with improvised systems that offer the small or big miniatures the possibility to fizz their smokestacks or to even shoot their small canons. It was then that the carol singers were transformed into the crew of their war ship and were being displayed with sailor’s reefers and hats, each one of them with their own special role: captain, stoker, cannoneer,  sailor or τζόβενα.  Moreover, since the era of the establishment of "Refugees of Mikra Asia" in Chios, a new momentum was brought into the custom as young and old carol singers were matched manufacturers and so in a symbolic level, these miniatures with the war ships which initially were connected with freedom and salvation and later on with the desirable hope that with those the repatriation of the refugees would become true one day.

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Additionally the character of the custom was connected not only with the war miniature ship but also with the production of special content carols; the war and the refugee ones, and the instruments they were escorted by, of the clay craftiness and the improvised drum.

In post war period the custom saw new glory, always connected with the poor children of the city districts and the refugee districts. The miniature ships, though enriched with new patents, were still named after glorious war ships that were connected to major historical facts «Αβέρωφ», «Θύελλα»,«Ιέραξ», «Έλλη» and so on, and after the names of the districts or parishes they were coming from: «Παναγία Τουρλωτή», «Άγιος Γεώργιος Φρουρίου», «Αγία Παρασκευή- Καστέλλο», «Παναγία Λέτσαινα», «Παναγία Ευαγγελίστρια».

Why I liked this traditional event this year…

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Since I was a child I used to go every New Year’s Eve in the central square of my island to watch the popular “karavakia”.  In my first touch with this custom the parishes and districts of the island used to build large commercial ships to which sometimes they gave the name of the parish and other times the name of the district, like Kastro, Letsena Tourloti etc.

After some time the commercial ships were replaced by the war ships. You could see battleships, destroyers and other huge ships to parade in Aplotaria at first and  ending up on the Vounakiou square.

Last year, before the team of Frourio starts the wishes and the songs, they requested the tradition to be continued with the warships since this is how it began in the 50’s. This is the reason why last year all the districts displayed war ships. The exception was made by only one district which decided to display the favourite ship of residents of Chios, the famous “Nisos Chios” of N.E Chios - The one that used to transfer us to Athens when we were still kids. I still remember the yellow sign of the smokestack, the bow that opened in the front for the vehicles to come out and also the ladder that was attached on the side which we used to ascend.  It evoked moments that were burried in the back of our minds as the time passed. Since then many ships followed like Alkaios Sapfw Theofilos Mutilini and nowadays European Express, Nisos Chios and Patmos.

The new ships are definitely faster and more comfortable but none of them managed to speak to our hearts like Nisos Chios. I want to say a thank-you to the children who remembered and cherished it last year regarding our custom. Also, a thank-you to the authorities which awarded it because the miniature ship was magnificent with brilliant details. In my opinion It has to be well kept in order not to perish with the passing of time.

The society of Chios remembers and cherishes some heroes of our everyday life.

Some others didn’t do it.

Below I present the picture of my favourite ship before It becomes scrap.

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Some further expressions of last year's competition can be watched on Youtube .