The Anafanos is a favorite Messenikolitan custom related to the mass of Easter night, when the Resurrection of Jesus is celebrated. All villagers recall happy childhood memories connected to this custom. This bonfire was the children’s work, which was burnt in the evening before Easter Sunday probably to symbolize the burning of Judas, the disciple that betrayed his Master.

Many years ago, when the village throbbed with more life than today, the building of the Anafanos was a real kids’ fete, which lasted the whole Passion Week.

The older boys of the village undertook the task of cutting down small cedar and holly bushes, which the younger ones hauled to the site appointed for the building of the bonfire right at the top of the village.

There they piled up the bushes building a stack that reached higher than 30 feet. The stack was bound to a vertical wooden axis. This entire task was already completed by Easter Eve and everybody beamed with pride in having contributed to the construction of the Anafanos.

On Saturday evening all the kids gathered around the Anafanos to await the Resurrection announcement by the priest on the churchyard – the church was in full view from the place – and to guard the bonfire from the envious kids of the nearby village who always attempted to thwart the Anafanos by prematurely putting fire to it. On the other hand, that was also the kids’ excuse to spend the whole night outdoors because in those days the Resurrection celebration took place at 4 o’clock in the morning. The time was spent merrily with songs, jokes and pranks, and at the same time the kids had the opportunity of enjoying the enthralling night view of the plain of Thessaly with the innumerable lights of the villages that merged with the glimmer of the stars.

At midnight the Resurrection fireworks from the 12-mile distant town of Karditsa were clearly visible, as the town celebrated the Resurrection at that time, but the Messenikolas kids had to wait four more hours to start their own pyrotechnics by burning the Easter Bonfire.

During the long wake until the Resurrection it could get bitter cold, therefore the children raided the nearby fences and yards to get the necessary fuel for their warming.

As soon as the kids saw the first churchgoers coming out of the church with their candles lit, they put fire to the stack all around it. After a few moments the blaze was so bright that it turned the night into day. Then the voice of the priest and of the entire congregation as well as that of the children rang in the night by chanting the Resurrection canticle Christ is Risen. The atmosphere was really devout.

Despite the meager number of children nowadays, this custom still goes on.


Loukantzaria or Rokantzaria (Grotesquely masked groups)

On the Epiphany Eve the village is overwhelmed by the songs and colors of grotesquely masked groups of people, the so called Loukantzaria. This custom goes back to the pagan times and symbolizes the ousting of malevolent spirits by the Holy Light.

The Loukantzaria are organized in companies of people, who are dressed in a manner reminiscent of witch doctors or shamans. The leader of each company carries a 6 ft conical headgear (suilo) standing in place by dint of a thin wooden pole. At the top of the suilo a bunch of multicolored balloons is tied. He is dressed in animal skins and girdled with a string of goat or cow bells. The rest of the company is also clad in a similar way and they make a pandemonium of clamor. Some members are disguised in a variety of manners, such as a couple about to be married, a doctor with his stethoscope, a bear tamer with his teddy bear, a priest, and so on.

The companies call on each house of the village in turns and sing a song, whose lyrics are appropriate to the social state of the household.

The master of the house then stands the Loukantzaria to generous treats of money or delicacies. In case of a tightfisted master the Loukantzaria jeer at him with a satirical song.

In the olden days, the Loukantzaria custom lasted four days and there was an exchange of companies between villages.

The custom still goes on in our days despite the dramatic decline of the local population.