The schoolchildren of the Greek island of Kalymnos in the Dodecanese archipelago sang the traditional Christmas carols or kalanda for Greek people everywhere on Friday.
Walking down the steep, narrow cobblestone streets of the island’s capital, the children sent a message of love and peace to the whole world.
Every year, Greeks anxiously await Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and January 5, the day before the Epiphany, when children go house-to-house singing Greek carols, hoping to receive coins from the families they sing for.
Kalymnos is the island of sponge-divers
This tradition is still going strong in Kalymnos, the third most populous island of the Dodecanese, after Kos and Rhodes. Known in Greece for the affluence of much of its population, it stands as both the wealthiest member of the Dodecanese and one of the wealthiest Greek islands overall.
Part of its wealth is due to sponge diving, which has been practiced for untold centuries. Sponges were historically the main source of income of Kalymnians, bringing wealth to the island and making it famous throughout the Mediterranean.
The Kalymnians harvested sponges from the sea-bed as close as Pserimos and as far as North Africa. Early diving was done without equipment (free diving), using a harpoon. Sponges are still harvested individually, by hand.
The hunt for sponges, despite being not only dangerous, was also extremely lucrative. During the peak of the sponge trade, in the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth century, sponges from Kalymnos were sent across Greece, the Mediterranean, and the world.
Records show that these precious goods were sent as far as Russia and throughout the Middle East.
Many Greek immigrants from Kalymnos, and from other islands where the practice was widespread, moved to the US and brought their skills in sponge diving with them.
The most widely known example is the iconic city of Tarpon Springs, in Florida, where immigrants from the islands of Kalymnos and Symi began to dive for sponges in the Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the city famous across the world for both its sponges and its distinctly Greek identity.