8. Family and Community Ceremonies

In almost every house in Corfu, there was a home altar where the family icons were placed. Family icons are passed from generation to generation and often they are very old and closely connected with the family history. In front of the icons a vigil lamp is always present, within which a small flame is constantly alight. The plant Ballota acetabulosa was used as a wick in the vigil lamp. The dried funnel shaped flowers were harvested from the wild and the seeds were removed. Two of these flowers were placed one inside the other and were turned upside down to float on the olive oil. The tip was lit with a match and the little flame kept alight for the whole night without producing any smoke.

Ballota acetabulosa

On New Year’s Eve, usually one of the male members of the family (most probably the father) digs out the bulb of the plant called sea squill, Urginea maritima and hangs it outside the main door of the house. People in town can buy the bulb wrapped in aluminum foil (the bulb is toxic) in the open market. The sea squill can also be placed in the icon altar or it can be hung on the ceiling. People believe it is a protective plant that keeps evil, illness and negative energy away. It is one of the plants symbolizing eternal life and reminds people that the end of a cycle is just the beginning of a new one.

Sea squill, Urginea maritima

On New Year’s Day morning the father will ceremonially break a pomegranate on the stairs of the house, wishing that the family will have everything needed during the year in abundance. Pomegranate seeds symbolize abundance and the plant is connected with resurrection, eternal life and the faith that all we really need is always provided.

During the whole Christmas period, Corfiot houses are decorated with cypress branches and myrtle, which the whole family usually harvests in the wild.

There are many occasions on which the families of the island take their food and spend the whole day in nature. The first of May is the one most closely related to plants, as people among other things celebrate the spring rebirth of nature. Family members make flower necklaces to wear and a big wreath to hang on the main entrance. This wreath will remain there until June the twenty-forth. This is the day that is dedicated to St. John the Baptist by the Orthodox Church. In most Corfiot villages, people light up big fires in the central square. Families bring the first of May wreath to burn in the communal fire. An open air fiesta follows, where people dance and jump over the low flames.

There are so many family and community ceremonies in Corfu that include plants in one way or another that this could be the theme of another project. These are the most common ones that are still practiced by most families.