XIROPOTAMOS ( Municipality Drama , Drama County )
“Arapides” (“Blacks”) or “Arapiden” (Day of “Arapis”) 6-7 January
The group of performers of the custom of “Arapides” is called “tseta”. Main characters of the “tseta” are the “Arapides” (“arapoue”), men dressed in fleece capes (formerly with pelts) and head masks of goatskin (formerly of sheepskin). On the head, they tie a scarf and they are holding a wooden sword. On their waist they put on bells, three large “batalia” or three “kypria” (sometimes even more) matched, so that their sound is harmonic. The “tseta” complement the “Evzones” (traditional soldiers, they participate as grooms), the “Geliges” (brides), young men dressed up in the traditional female attire of the region and the “Mangoudes” (“mangouftse”, clowns). “Mangous” wears white clothes, a black sock on his head with holes for eyes and nose, small bells on his waist, have a fake hump and keeps a bag with ashes from the Twelve Days of Christmas and a wooden walking stick. Head of the team is “tsetabasia”, a man not in disguise, holding a shepherd’s crook. He is responsible for organizing the team, communicating with the musicians, their payment and the fundraising.
On January 6 members of the “tseta” get the blessing from the priest who has blessed the waters (probably newer element). Accompanied by musicians playing the Macedonian lyra and “dahare” (type of a frame drum) the “tseta” wanders the village streets, passing by houses, dancing, wishing health and prosperity to families. The loud sound of bells is considered to be able to cast off the demonic forces of winter. The “tsetabasia” gathers the financial bids from the households, with which, in the past, they set up a feast (“Atanasouiden”) for the cast of January 18, St. Athanasius day, where the “arapides” were not disguised; they wore only the bells.
On the morning of January 7, the musicians and the “tseta” (traditionally 10-15 people) wander again in the neighborhoods, this time, however, only visit the homes of celebrants named John. They go in their yards, dance while the householder leads “for the wellbeing” of the household, bestow wishes and accept treats. The “tseta” ends up in the village square, where they initiate a dance, in which later on spectators join. In the orchestra the bagpipe musician also participates. The “arapides” and the “mangoudes” push the people, who restrict the dancing space, back protecting the ritual circle. Occasionally humorous episodes occur, such as the presence of a “mangous” on a carriage shouting obscenities and shaking ostentatiously in front of his genitals a bell. These are practices with joyful meaning, which, while in the pre-modern era they discharged the agony of man in the transitional period of one production season to another, nowadays they relieve the tension of modern life.
By sundown, in the past, the “mangoudes” yoked a plough with two “arapides”, who simulated the ploughing of the square and scattered ashes, a substance with magical, preventive power against the uncontrollable factors that could affect the crops. They represented, thus, the plowing of the land that was waiting to receive the new seed protected from bugs by the deterrent effect of the ashes and enhanced by its nutrients. Therefore the ritual action of the “tseta” was completed.
The “tseta’s” stroll, with the “brides” and “grooms”, wedding characters and the representation of tillage are considered to be magical - ritual with which farmers and stockbreeders of the past hoped to awaken and strengthen the fertility powers of nature, to see their fields sprout, the animals to increase and their families to prosper.