Procession of the Swallow

Procession of the Swallow

Type of Holiday: Folkloric, Calendar/Seasonal
Date of Observation: March 1
Where Celebrated: Greece
Symbols and Customs: Ivy, Swallow

ORIGINS

The Procession of the Swallow marks the changing of the seasons, which people in all parts of the world have honored since ancient times. Many cultures divided the year into two seasons, summer and winter, and marked these points of the year at or near the summer and winter solstices, during which light and warmth began to increase and decrease, respectively. In pre-industrial times, humans survived through hunting, gathering, and agricultural practices, which depend on the natural cycle of seasons, according to the climate in the region of the world in which they lived. Thus, they created rituals to help ensure enough rain and sun in the spring and summer so crops would grow to fruition at harvest time, which was, in turn, duly celebrated. Vestiges of many of these ancient practices are thought to have survived in festivals still celebrated around seasonal themes.

The Procession of the Swallow is a Greek custom observed on March 1 in celebration of the arrival of spring. Children go from house to house in pairs, carrying a rod from which a basket full of IVY is hung. At the end of the rod is an effigy of a bird made of wood with tiny bells around its neck. This is the SWALLOW from which the festival takes its name.

As they proceed through the village, the children sing "swallow songs" that go back more than 2,000 years. The woman of the house takes a few ivy leaves from the basket and places them in her hen's nest in the hope that they will encourage the hen to lay more eggs. The children receive a few eggs in return, and they move on to the next house.

SYMBOLS AND CUSTOMS

Ivy

Because it stays green all year long, the ivy that is carried from house to house during the Procession of the Swallow is a symbol of health and growth. It is believed to possess the power to keep hens and other domestic animals from succumbing to disease and to increase their fertility.

Swallow

At one time it was widely believed that the swallow hibernated in the mud during the winter, reemerging with the advent of spring. For this reason it became a symbol for spring itself.

In Christian art, the swallow often appears in scenes of the Annunciation and of the Nativity, where it is usually shown nesting under the eaves or in holes in the wall. Just as it symbolized a rebirth from the death-like state of winter, it also became a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ.

FURTHER READING

Ferguson, George. Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, 1954. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Leach, Maria, ed. Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology & Leg- end. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.

Swallow, Procession of the

March 1
The Procession of the Swallow takes place in Greece on March 1 as a celebration of the arrival of spring. Children go from house to house in pairs, carrying a rod from which a basket full of ivy leaves is hung. At the end of the rod is an effigy of a bird made of wood with tiny bells around its neck. This is the "swallow," the traditional harbinger of spring.
As they proceed through the village, the children sing "swallow songs" that go back more than 2,000 years. The woman of the house takes a few ivy leaves from the basket and places them in her hen's nest in the hope that they will encourage the hen to produce more eggs. The children receive a few eggs in return, and they move on to the next house. The ivy, which is green all year round, is symbolic of growth and fertility, and it is believed to have the power to bring good health to hens and other animals.
SOURCES:
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 71
DictFolkMyth-1984, p. 1091
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