A few years ago I had the chance to visit Florina and fall under the spell of its charm. Endearing landscapes, impeccable architecture, delicious food and inviting people. It is a dreamy city that you will, most definitely, not forget. My beloved friend and host introduced me to the local culture and way of life, adding to my entire travel experience much more interest and colour.
Florina is home to a local tradition, which was to a great extent the reason why I decided to take the long way to the “Queen of Northern Greece”. Every year, on the 23rd of December, the old local custom of lighting Bonfires takes place on the streets of the city. It is a hallmark of Florina and an essential part of the life of the locals. Woodpiles of cedar logs are used as tinders for the big bonfires that can reach a height of 15 meters. As soon as the clock strikes midnight, several bonfires are lit from different societies all over the neighborhoods of the city. The preparation starts a long time ahead as collecting the firewood can be quite time-consuming.
This is believed to be a pagan tradition, having its origins in antiquity, when people paid their respects to Apollo, the sun-god, and welcomed the longer days that were yet to come. Ever since the days of Christianity, it has become a symbol of the original fire that the shepherds lit to keep baby Jesus warm. Moreover, it is said that bonfires repel evil spirits and keep people safe.
Over the years the custom has taken the form of an unofficial antagonism among the various quarters, each society aiming to light the biggest bonfire. Usually, the greatest is the one at Iroon square, by the river.
Foodies will be happy to find delicious treats all over the city; wine, bean soup and local sweets. Of course, another indispensable element of the night-fun is the dance. A merry bash takes place around the bonfires, with people feasting, dancing and having good fun. As time goes by the entire city is transformed into an effervescent street party.
The temperatures in the North are extremely low during that period and it can get biting cold. Yet, this does not discourage the locals and visitors. All you need is warm and cozy clothes, as well as the right dancing mood! We kept moving back and forth in party stroll, all night; when we were close to the fire the heat was unbearable, but as soon as we made a few steps away the cold would pierce through our bodies. of course, this doesn’t hold anyone back from moving from bonfire to bonfire to get warm and strut their stuff.
Before going to bed, a final stop at Lord, the most beautiful bar in the city, is a must. Small, yet endearing it is a wonderful cozy place with great people and groovy music. The magic lies at every corner in this town.
During Christmas lot of other events are held in the city starting from mid-December all the way through to the 6th of January. Performances, activities for kids, strolls and tours in the historic city center, music events and tsipouro feasting are among the various festivities that one can catch while being in town. It is a most unique experience that one is bound to hold in memory until next year… Because if you visit the city once, you are bound to return!