Once a year, on January 6th, the Greek Orthodox have their water blessed by the priest of their respective church. Because Himare is a predominantly Greek Orthodox community, there was no school so the town could celebrate this religious holiday.
At approximately 10:30 am each year, the priest of the Greek Orthodox Church that is located in Himare Fshati (at the top of the hill) comes down to the sea, says a prayer and throws a wooden cross into the water. After the cross is tossed into the sea a group of boys and men race out to where the cross has landed. Whoever gets to the cross first is blessed by the priest and, in Himare, is rewarded with 150 Euros.
I could not believe so many men participated in this ritual in the middle of winter. There was no sun, the air was extremely cold and the water was even colder. I guess the prospect of winning 150 Euros was enough incentive for these men.
Throughout this day, one can visit a Greek Orthodox Church and receive blessed water. According to the Greek Orthodox, if someone gets sick, they can drink blessed water and they will eventually be healed. What is also interesting is that any 'regular' water that is added to blessed water becomes blessed as well.
This was a huge community event. All the people in Himare were down on the beach watching the priest and the men swim out to the cross. Prior to the event, all the children in town were so excited. Everyone was anxiously talking about who would reach the cross first. It was the first time that I had seen the whole community of Himare together, celebrating a holiday. Because so many people in the community were down on the beach, I saw many of the children as well as adults that I know. All of these people came up to me and wanted to tell me all about this particular holiday and why it was such a bit event for the town. This was the first time I really felt like part of the community and realized how many people I actually do know here in Himare. It was also a big confidence booster for my Albanian language skills. Interacting with all the people in the community showed me how much Albanian I understand and have learned since I have been here. As of yet, this was one of my favorite experiences I have had in my site.