The Joys of Research: The Tarpon Springs Epiphany Celebration

I know how lucky I am to make up stories for a living. Of course life for novelists isn’t staring into space with a cup of tea. Tearing out our hair, questioning our sanity, and wishing we had a job that didn’t hover over us during every waking hour–and many hours while we’re sleeping, too–is also part of the profession. But this weekend, I was reminded, as I have been many, many times, just how much I love what I do.

I especially love research that takes me places I’ve never been, for reasons I never imagined. For A Family of Strangers among other trips I visited a kennel in Orlando for a day and had great conversations about training dogs for security and police work. For The Swallow’s Nest, I spent days in San Jose, CA, walking through the streets of Willow Glen and inhaling the lavish perfume of the Municipal Rose Garden. I’ve sailed on Australian pearling luggers (Beautiful Lies), spent a day at a real bar run by three sisters (Whiskey Island), toured stables in Upperville and Middleburg, Virginia (Fox River), and the list goes on and on.

This week I spent a wonderful two days in Tarpon Springs, Florida, during their annual Epiphany celebration. My latest book is set there, and this was my second trip for research, or possibly this was my third trip since I went to Tarpon Springs on a field trip in elementary school and never forgot it.

I made a reservation for Epiphany almost nine months ago, at a Bed and Breakfast within walking distance of both the Sponge Docks and the historic downtown. Epiphany, in the Greek Orthodox church, commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, and thousands come to Tarpon Springs for the celebration.

I ate scrumptious Greek food, saw a bishop bless the fleet as well as bless the boys who would dive for a wooden cross on Epiphany day. I stood outside St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox cathedral for over an hour listening to the service within and chatting with the people standing around me listening, too. I heard Greek spoken everywhere, absorbed more information about the town and its residents, and learned a bit about what it’s like to be raised in a family where Greek is always spoken at home.

More fun than telling you about my experience, is showing you. So enjoy as I did. How will this show up in the new book? I’ll be interested to discover that, too.

the joys of research

After blessing the boys who would dive for the cross the next day, the bishop blessed the boats and then the shops in town. He blessed me as he walked by, too.

joys of research

No blog about Tarpon Springs would be complete without one photo of food. Here are some of the fabulous treats from Hellas Bakery, some of which are now sitting on my kitchen counter.

joys of research

54 boys between the ages of 16 and 18 were chosen from five different Orthodox churches to dive for a wooden cross thrown by the archbishop of America into Spring Bayou. Here they are walking to the bayou for the dive. Note they’re barefooted? Part of the tradition. And yes, it was a cold day. I don’t want to think about how cold that water was.

Will one of these boys be the diver who finds a future cross?

joys of research

There was no shortage of children in Greek costumes, who later danced at the Glendi, the celebration festival in a park near the bayou.

At last, after many prayers (Greek and English) and talks about the importance of the moment, a white dove was released to symbolize the Holy Spirit and then Archbishop Elpidophoros threw the cross in the water. Hunter Sakadales of Tarpon Springs, 18, quickly retrieved it, and the tradition says he will be blessed for the upcoming year.

I felt blessed to be there.


  1. Beverly Magee on January 8, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    This is truly awesome. What a great experience!

    • Emilie Richards on January 8, 2020 at 3:25 pm

      It really was memorable. So glad I got to experience it.

  2. Nancy Lepri on January 8, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    How truly interesting! Can’t wait to read about some of this in one of your future novels!

  3. April on January 9, 2020 at 7:52 pm

    It is really interesting to learn about the different customs and traditions of different areas.

  4. Marsha Markham on January 12, 2020 at 12:34 am

    I loved this post…so interesting and nice of you to take us along on the experience!

  5. Gordana Ristevska on February 3, 2020 at 10:38 am

    Just read this! I’m Cristian Orthodox and we have continued this tradition in our church just on a smaller scale. We have a small creek that runs behind our Monastery and the boys wade more than dive for the cross. The only difference is I live in Northern NJ and the temperatures are much lower so those boys need to be very resilient. It will be very interesting to find this in a book thank you!

    • Emilie Richards on February 4, 2020 at 2:44 pm

      Gordana, thank you for this great comment. We saw boys diving for a cross in Greece over Easter one year, too. This time it was cold (for Florida) the day these boys dove, and I was relieved one boy found it immediately. I’m told that normally whichever dignitary throws it usually really tosses it, but this time the Archbishop more or less dropped it in the water. This meant the boys weren’t in long, for which I was grateful.

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