Festivals and celebrations can be another name of Greece. Almost all the celebrations and festivals are related to religions and ancient traditions. They celebrate each event seriously and devotedly. Customs can be varied from one island to other. You will discover the diversity of art, food, and wine. The Greek are quite superstitious and religious. They even celebrate many festivals because of those superstitions. Because of their eccentric traditions and grand way of celebrations, every year thousands of tourists come to visit and observe the events. Tourists and outsiders are warmly welcomed. Their traditional cloths, local dances and music with handmade instruments will definitely amaze you. You will be charmed to experience various ancient cultural practices through these festivals.
Orthodox Easter (April 28)
Easter is the most important, religious, and anticipated event in Greece. This is the biggest event in the whole year which is held for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday. The country becomes alive with candlelit street processions. It is held in the month of April but dates are not fixed. There are midnight fireworks and the smell of roasted lamb. The celebration starts seven weeks before Easter Sunday. There are prayers and other services arranged every evening in the churches. The Holy week is the peak time when every day is celebrated with a different event. The first Saturday is the Lazarus while children go to collect money and eggs in the neighborhood and sing the hymn of Lazaros. Every church and epitaphs are decorated and locals fast and perform many services with different customs. The celebration is everywhere. Good Friday is the Easter weekend when a special celebration is held. There is mourning for the death of Christ. Candlelit processions with flowered tomb (epitaphios) of Christ are carried as Christ’s funeral. First all gather at the square then start to march through the town. People throw flowers and perfume on the epitaphios. On Good Saturday at midnight, the devotees go to church to bring the Holy Light. The priest comes with a lighted torch and the Holy Flame is shared among the devotees. Then the devotees share it with others. They bring back the burning candle and make a sign of a cross above the door for good fortune. Everyone chants ‘Christos Anesti’ (Christ is Risen). The sky is exploded with fireworks. This is a spectacular and memorable event. Everyone greets each other to mark the special moment. Everyone goes back to break their fast with traditional dishes such as magiritsa, a soup of rice, dill, onion, herbs, lamb tripe, and lemon and follow many customs. It is cooked on a very low flame. One funny ritual is to crack red-dyed eggs. Red is to symbolize the blood of Christ. Wines, mouthwatering local dishes, folk music, and dances are everywhere to enjoy. On Easter Sunday morning everyone enjoys a feast with a lamb roast. The Corfu island and Chios island are very famous for arranging grand celebrations. Each place has a few unique events. The Monastery of St John the Theologian on Patmos is also very popular for the celebration. Here you will witness many ancient Christian rituals. To go there for celebrating Greek Orthodox Easter you have to follow the Julian calendar because it may not be the same with Catholic Easter which is matched with the Gregorian calendar. Normally it is one week after Catholic Easter. If you are an outsider, book your accommodation as early as possible. During this time the hotel price increases. If possible, look for a place to stay with local families. It is a little cheap and at the same time, you will be able to experience their customs and rituals closely.
Apokries (Carnival) (April)
In Greece, the carnivals are named as Apokries. It is related to Easter Sunday starts almost ten weeks before that. The last day of the carnival is The Lent Monday. The date of the carnival is not fixed, it can vary. The biggest carnivals are held in Patra, Corfu island, Rethymno and Xanthi. Tourists from all over the world come to take part in this celebration. It is almost 180 years old. Many types of events such as a parade, treasure hunt, and children’s carnivals are few main attractions. The Patras Carnival is mostly related to ancient pagan customs. It is for showing honor to Dionysus. They believe that if the devotees request the deity to be born to bring spring with a feast, he will listen to them. Almost ten thousand participants gather together to make it splendid, spontaneous, and thrilling. The balls, masque parties are arranged everywhere in homes, café, bars, and restaurants, and in the neighborhood. Now the cultural department of Patras supervises the workshop for the making of the giant floating carnival king and his entourage. The event receives funding from the authority. Normally the carnival starts on the St. Anthony Day (17 January). The opening is announced with a satirical message and people are invited to come to George’s square to attend the opening ceremony. The Mayor declares the opening from the first-floor balcony of the Apollon theatre. Fireworks, music, dances, pantomimes are everywhere to make your time memorable. From 1968 a baby rally is organized by the Association of Patra. From zero to upwards all the young participants come to the parade with their parents, teachers, or supervisors. Almost 5000 or more gather to take part in the celebration. This helps them to know about the carnival and encourage them a lot. They are dressed in colorful costumes and take part in groups like kindergarten, nurseries, music school, dance school, theatre school, and other types. The music bands and cheerleaders accompany them in the parade. The floats that are used for this parade are inspired by fairytales. Special games and competitions are arranged for the children. A giant carnival town is built in Ipsilon Alonion Square for the kids to play. There are also many interesting arrangements for adults. One is a treasure hunt game. Small groups of people with special themed costumed participate in this game. The questions are related to Greek history, culture, mathematics, and other practical knowledge. There are also art competitions, theatre, and music. The Saturday Night Parade is called ‘Nihterini Podarati’, a parade combination of excited people, colors, and lights. The Grand Parade is the main attraction which is held on Sunday before the Lent Monday. People in different groups with a themed costume on their own and floating satirical figures are joined. The parade visits the whole city for hours and shares joy and happiness. At last, the carnival king is burnt and concerts and parties are there to end the ceremony. The popular event is even broadcasted on National television.
Saint’s day of the Virgin Mary (August 15)
This is the second biggest religious festival in Greece. A public holiday is declared on this day. People eagerly wait for this day, to celebrate. Rooms are really hard to rent at this time. The street will be crowded and lively. In the Greek Orthodox calendar, this day is known for assuming Mother Mary’s ascended to heaven. The Greek also believes that their freedom has a connection with Mother Mary. Here, she is known as Panagia, a symbol of comfort and protection. From early 1800 to the present day, the day is celebrated. Different islands arrange different and unique events. In every church and chapel, the Panagia is given a last honorable name like- Panagia the Healer, the Merciful, the Graceful, the Philanthropist, etc. The Tinos in the Cycladic islands is the top pilgrimage destination. The devotees gather in front of the holy icon. In Paros, people follow a procession filled with dance, wine, and folk music. In Zagrohoria the celebration lasts for three days with dancing and singing. In Kefalonia, a unique incident happens. Each year some small harmless snakes arrive at the church of the village Markopoulo. If they do not appear that means some bad things are going to happen to the island. In Lesvos, people walk to the church of the Virgin Mary in Agiassos which is 25 km away from the city and stay there for the whole night. All the churches celebrate with feast and offerings. Fasts are observed and are broken on 15th August. Buses and trains are available with a modified schedule to go to any desired destination. To witness the country’s rich and wonderful faith, tradition, culture, and customs, this is one of the best times to visit. You will face a huge crowd and it will be hard to arrange accommodation. So, plan early and book your place. Many local travel agencies are there to help with accommodation and transportation and give exclusive offers.
Visit the German website Backpackertrail to find out more about the festival seasons in Greek and to read up on more activities to do in Greece.
List of other major festivals
- January – The carnival, Epiphany, New Year’s Day
- February – The carnival
- March –Independence Day, Clean Monday
- April – Orthodox Easter,
- May – Labour Day
- June – Athens and Epidaurus Festival, Naval Festival, Miaoulia Festival, Nafplio Festival
- July – Ancient Olympia International Festival
- August – Saint’s day of the Virgin Mary
- September– Athens International Film Festival, Armata Festival
- October – Ohi Day
- November – Athens marathon
- December – Christmas