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Greeks organize and welcome
festivals since the antiquity.
"Almost every day is a holiday in Greece."
The Greek Festivals have: 1) either religious basis, or, 2) have a cultural nature.
Religious and National Festivals
The dates of many festivals change due to many factors. If you are planning a trip around a particular festival, confirm with the locals that it is actually happening before you go.
January 1, New
Year's Day: January 1 is the Feast of Agios Vassillios
(Saint Basil, the Great) and is celebrated with church services.
Name day for Basil. It is also the day of the
"vassilopita", a sweat bread with a coin token inside
which brings its finder good luck for the future year. January 1
is also the day were gifts are given to the children.- Plaki =
Customs from Farasson in Cappadocia - Enborio Eordaias near
Kozani = traditional music and dances - Polikasro near Kilkis =
costumed folklore presentations,
January 6: the Epiphany: It is the religious feast of Agia Theofania or "Fota", being a Feast of Light. Name day for Fotini, Photios, Theophanis.
Traditional diving of the cross. A spiritual plunge in the cold waters of seas, lakes or rivers. On January 6th, the "twelve days" of Christmas officially come to an end. This day has a special meaning in Greece. It is a traditional holiday, performed by Greeks for themselves, not for tourists. During Epiphany, waters and the vessels that ply them are blessed and evil spirits are banished. The priests throw a cross and bless the waters while young locals dive in the cold waters to retrieve the cross competing for the privilege and blessing for recovering it. Today, the cross is attached to a long chain, just in case. At Piraeus, the port of Athens, the ceremony takes the form of a priest hurling a large crucifix into the waters. After the diving, local fishermen bring their boats to be blessed by the priest. What does all this have to do with Christmas? Orthodox belief says that this was the day of the baptism of Jesus, and this is the day's association with waters. But the observance may pre-date Christianity. In Roman times, there was to be a ceremony that opened the season of navigation. The day is also said to be the date of a festival of emperor-worship, also dating from Roman times. It may also reflect a survival of the custom of giving precious offerings to sea, river, and spring spirits to assure their benevolence or halt their interference. On Epiphany, the kallinkantzari (hobgoblins), those malicious spirits who are said to be active during the twelve days of Christmas, are believed to be banished for the rest of the year.
Many islands and villages offer smaller versions of the event. At Kozani - Lougatsaria, and Kastoria - Ragoutsaria the 1st carnival celebrations.
January 7th - Feast Day for St. John the Baptist; Name Day for Ioannis Prodromos- Katerini (Katafigion) - Prodomition;
January 8: the Gynecokratia (Matriarchy) The feast of the Gynecokratia takes place in villages of Thrace, the north region, where St Domenica is celebrated. At Seres - Monoklissia and Nea Petra - Strimi, Zilagani, Nea Kassiani – Aspro near Kilkis- today, is the day where men and women reverse their daily roles. Men stay at home doing the cleaning, cooking and laundering while women play cards at the village's "kafeneia", and do the men's duties.
February/March: The Carnival season: The
Carnival is called "Apokries" and is expressed by three
weeks of feasting, partying and dancing. Vigorous celebrations
are held in Patras(the Bourboulia), Naousa, Veria, Kozani,
Xanthi, Serres, Skyros, Chios (at Mesta, Olimbi, and Thymiana),
Poligyros, Cephallonia, Zakyntho, Messini, Agiassos on Lesvos,
Karpathos, Amfissa, Galaxidi, Thebes, Efxinoupolis (Volos),
Lamia, Agia Anna (Evia), Crete (Heraklion & Rethymnon) and
Athens with chariot parades on the last Sunday and the final
burning of the leading chariot. Carnival is growing in popularity
in Greece and many towns are reviving or adding customs. Apokries
is the Greek version of Mardi Gras, with fancy costumes parades
and parties. A great time if you like nightlife, parties, and
dancing. Greek winters are mild and Athens can be wild! The last
two weekends are the best.
Thursday "in the middle" of Carnival season, is a barbecue day, called Tsiknopempti.
Last Saturday of Carnival - Parade in Gythio in the Mani Region.
Lenten Monday called Kathari Deftera ( Shrove Monday - "Clean" Monday) and the tradition of flying a kite. Unique traditions on this Monday are: the "Vlachikos gamos" - traditional Greek wedding that takes place in Levadia, - Thebes (Thiva) and the folkloric funeral where a man lies down, pretends he's dead, lamentations begin, and he suddenly stands up - Galaxidi with the (Alevromountzouromata = flour throwing), -
"Dirty Monday" - Tyrnavos, Central Greece - A Phallic festival with Dionysian roots, a tourist attraction.
March 25: Greek Independence Day: This is the day of the celebration of the beginning of the Greek revolt against the Turkish occupants in 1821. The celebrations start with military parades in Athens and the other big cities in Greece and coincides with the Feast of Annunciation (Evanelismos tis Theotokou). It is the religious feast which celebrates when Archangel Gabriel announced Mary the incarnation of the Christ. It's the name day of Evangelos. Traditionally only fish is eaten.
April 23 or Easter Monday: the Feast of Agios Georgios (Saint George) The feast is celebrating the knight St. George killing the Dragon. Saint George is the patron of the shepherds and celebrations are organised in many towns and villages.
Palm Sunday the exodus of the Messolongi town is celebrated. Lord Byron was with the Greeks surrounded in the city. Lord Byron's heart is burried under his statue in the main square of Messolonghi.
Easter is the most important festival of Greece and of the Orthodox Church and a festival worth to be seen. The first ceremony takes place on Good Friday when the "Epitafios" - an imitation of the Christ's funeral bier, beautifully decorated with flowers by the women of the parish, is paraded through the streets of the villages or the neighbours of the cities. In some region of Greece such as Crete, this ceremony is accompanied by the burning of effigies of Judas Iscariot. In Kalamata on this day the tradition of the saitopolemos revives. A great celebration takes places on Saturday, for Christ's triumphant return. Before midnight, all the lights of the churches are extinguished, symbolising the darkness which envelops Christ as He passes through the underworld. A priest appears ten minutes before twelve o' clock, holding aloft a lighted taper and chanting "Thefte lavete Fos… "(come and take the Light…) and shares the Holy flame on the candles of the worshippers until the entire church and the courtyard full of people are illuminated by the Holy Light. It is a beautiful spectacle. Then, unorganised fireworks explode in the streets around the Church. In some places such as Agrinion, men throw impressive fireworks. Worshippers then bring the burning candles home and make with the black smoke of the candle the sign of a cross above their home's door. It is supposed to bring good fortune. After midnight, families and friends meet to eat the "Magiritsa", a soup made from lamb tripe, rice, dill and lemon. The rest of the lamb will be roasted on a manually turned spit on Easter Sunday, with wines and dances. This festival is of great importance all over Greece but some places are famous for the Easter celebrations: The island of Patmos, the islands of Hydra & Corfu, on Vrontades of Chios, in Kalamata and Agrinio, in Leonidio of Peloponissos, on the island of Karpathos, on Andros island and many other cities.
May 1: Protomagia
May/June: the Day of the Agio Pnevma (Holy Spirit) The feast is celebrated 50 days after Easter.
May 18 - 21: On Crete, the Battle of Crete is commemorated in many places throughout the month, with a major observance in Chania. The resistance to Adolf Hitler's paratrooper invasion of the island was so intense that the Fuhrer declared that he would never again launch a similar attack. Many families still light candles to loved ones lost six decades ago in what was a very dark passage in the history of the island. The service is followed by Australians, New Zealanders and British that took part in the battle.
May 21, Agios Konstantinos and Agia Eleni nameday: This is the name day celebration of Agios Konstantinos and Agia Eleni. At the villages of Lagada near Thessaloniki, Agia Eleni near Serres and at the city of Veria the extraordinary tradition of people walking on fire takes place. The tradition is called “Anastenaria” and the people taking part are called “anastenarides”. Under the leadership of “Archi-anastenaris” and holding old icons of St. Konstantinos and St. Eleni dance over pits filled with burning coals without getting injured. It's a tradition with very old roots.
May 26: On Rhodes, a flower festival filling the streets of the Old City. This area is picturesque and the festival livens up the old stone walls with brilliant splashes of color.
June - Rally Acropolis: International motorcar race competition.
August 8: Sotiros Day and at the village of Markopoulo on the island of Cephalonia at the church yard, small harmless snakes bearing a small black cross on their head appear. People take them in their hands without fear. The little snakes disappear after this date.
August 12: Tradition of "oiled wrestlers", at Rodopi. A traditional wrestling contest that starting 700 years ago between Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish wrestlers takes place in the village of Kehros in the Rodopi region. 10,000 spectators watch the tradition every year and have fun with the celebrations.
August 15: Day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary This feast celebrates Mary's ascent to Heaven. Great pilgrimages take place to Tinos and festivities are organised in Paros, Patmos, Skyros, Spetses, Veria( Panagia Soumela), Lesvos, Mt. Olympus and Karpathos.
September 9: The birthday of Mother Mary and in the small town of Limni on the island of Evia an unusual auction takes places. The highest bidder has the honour to carry Mother Mary's icon to the church. On the island of Spetses the seabattle of Armada is resembled and the burning of the ship ends the day.
September 14: The Stavros day and on the island of Egina they celebrate the "funeral of Lidinou" a tradition symbolizing the growth of vegetation.
September (last weekend) - Spartathlon run: International race from Athens to Sparta.
October 7 - The sea battle at Nafpaktos Re enactement and beautiful celebrations.
October 28: National Anniversary It is the day of the National Anniversary of Greek Independence. The day is characterised by military parades and folk dances. The day is also called "OCHI Day" in honour of General Metaxa's famous "OCHI!" (NO!) as a refusal to Mussolini's and the Italians' demand to enter the country during World War II.
November - Marathon run: International race on the original Marathon route in memory of the young warrior who in 490BC run from Marathon to announce to the Athenians the victory over the Persians.
November (first week) - The Philoxenia exhibition: Annual tourism trade to general public held in Thessaloniki.
November 17, the day of Polytechnic School of Athens: Day to comemorate the rising of the students against the army junta during 1974. The junta ruled Greece for 7 years (1967 - 1974).
December 23: Kladaries In Florina and Kozani they celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with big fires.
December 25: Christmas The feast, celebrating the birth of the Christ is of great importance. The traditional Greek decoration was a wooden boat but today, the decoration is closest to the western tradition. It is a day were many religious and musical festivities take place but also shopping festivities as all the occidental countries. The 24th is the day were children traditionally sing Christmas carols (kalanda) from door to door asking for money.