Festivals in Greece & the islands
There are many sorts of festivals in Greece that take place mostly in summer, in the mainland and the Greek islands.
Festivals have a religious base and they are following the Orthodox calendar. The Orthodox calendar is similar to the Catholic calendar, except for Easter sometimes. Those greek festivities are a major part of the Greek culture.
Other important festivals in Greece have a cultural nature. Many concerts and music festivals take place in Greece.
Festivals that are world known are:
- The Festival of Epidaurus: Many theatrical plays are performed in Athens (Herodes Atticus theatre) and the country's ancient and modern theatres like the Theatre of Epidaurus in Epidaurus.
- The Film festival of Thessaloniki: Cinema is also quite well represented and a festival takes place every year in Thessaloniki.
Moreover, the country has an interesting music scene, especially in the summertime, with many appearances from national and international bands.
Our guide proposes information about religious, national and cultural festivals in Greece and the Greek islands.
Information about Religious festivals based on the Christian Orthodox religion.
January 1st, the New Year's Day
January 1st is the Feast of Agios Vassilis (the Santa Claus in Greece is Saint Basil), celebrated with church services.
That day, all Greek families cut the vasilopita, a sweet bread with a coin inside which brings good luck for the year to come to its finder.
January 1st is also the day when Christmas gifts are given to the children.
Generally, Greece has many interesting Christmas customs that revive very vividly all over the country.
January 6th, the Epiphany
This is the feast of Agia Theofania, or Fota, which celebrates the day when the "kallikantzaroi", or hobgoblins that appeared during the period of Christmas, are re-banished to the netherworld by the church's rites.
During Epiphany, waters are blessed and evil spirits are banished.
At Lakeside, seaside or riverside locations, the priests throw a cross into the water and young locals dive to compete for the privilege and blessing to catch it.
February-March, The Carnival
The Carnival is called "Apokries" in Greek and it is expressed by three weeks of feasting and dancing.
The Carnival takes place three weeks before Lent Monday.
Important Carnival Parades take place in Patra, Xanthi, Corfu island and Rethymno with wonderful parties. In recent years, Naxos island is offering also a beautiful show.
The exact dates of the Carnival vary, depending on Easter. The Carnival finishes 7 weeks before Easter.
March 25th, Feast of the Annunciation
On this feast, the Christians celebrate the day that Angel Gabriel announced Mary the incarnation of Christ.
This day coincides with a National Holiday in Greece, the day where the Greeks declared the Revolutionary War against the Turks, on March 25th, 1821.
This is why military parades take place that day in all Greek towns.
Easter is the most important festival of the Greek Orthodox Church.
It starts 7 weeks before Easter's Sunday and comes to its peak the Holy Week. This is when Services are held every evening in the churches.
On Good Friday, a special celebration takes place when all the flowered tombs of the Christ (named Epitaphios) are gathered at the squares and make the tour of the villages & towns.
The peak of the Easter is on Good Saturday at midnight when pilgrims go to the church and get the Holy Light. At midnight exactly, the priest appears holding a lighted torch and shares the Holy Flame on the candles of near worshippers.
Then, the worshippers share at their turn the Holy Light with their close neighbors until the entire church and the courtyard get it. It is a beautiful spectacle.
Then, fireworks explode in the streets around the Church. At the end of the ceremony, worshippers bring the burning candles home and make with the black smoke of the candle the sign of a cross above their door. This custom is supposed to bring good fortune upon the house.
After midnight, families and friends eat "magiritsa", a soup made from lamb tripe, rice, dill, and lemon.
The next day, on Sunday, a lamb is grilled morning for lunch, accompanied by wines and dances. It is also officialy the end of fasting that started on "Kathari deutera", 40 days before Easter.
This festival is of great importance in all the regions of Greece but some places, such as the Greek islands of Corfu and Chios, are very famous for their Easter celebrations. The villages of Pyrgos in Santorini and Apiranthos in Naxos also offer a great spectacle.
In some towns, the Burning of Judas takes place on Easter Sunday in the evening.
April 23rd, The Feast of Saint George (Agios Georgios)
The feast celebrates the Knight who killed the Dragon. Saint George is the patron of the shepherds and celebrations are organized through the country.
Great festivities also take place in Arachova, Skiathos island, Skyros island and other Greek towns, where Saint George is considered their patron saint. Celebrations in Arachova last for three days.
May/June, The Day of the Holy Spirit
The feast takes place 40-50 days after Easter. It celebrates the day that the Holy Spirit presented to the Apostles and asked them to teach Christianity to the world. This is a holiday for students.
August 15th, The Day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary
This feast celebrates Mary's ascent to Heaven. Great pilgrimages take place in all places of Greece, particularly Tinos island, Paros island, and Patmos island.
Virgin Mary is the protector of all the country and many chapels dedicated to her will be encountered in Greece.
December 25th, Christmas
The feast is of great importance, as it is celebrating the birth of Christ.
In the past, people used to decorate wooden boats for Christmas, honoring the nautical tradition of Greece, but today people follow western traditions and decorate Christmas trees.
On December 24th, children traditionally sing Christmas carols (kalanda) from door to door.
Information about National Days based on major historical events.
March 25th, The Greek Independence Day
With military parades all over the country, the Greeks celebrate the day they declared the Revolutionary War against the Turks, on March 25th, 1821.
May 1st, Labor Day
This feast is called Protomagia (meaning the first day of May) and it is an urban holiday when people traditionally go to the countryside for a picnic.
It is also a day when large demonstrations are organized by the left political parties.
October 28th, National Anniversary
This day is characterized by military parades. It is also called "Ohi Day", meaning Day of No, in honor to the negative answer of the Greeks when the Italians asked them to surrender during World War II, on October 28th, 1940.
The Greeks fought for their country against the Italians and managed to win many battles, although they were fewer in number and didn't have good military equipment.
However, the coordinated attack of the German-Italian forces in April 1941 succumbed to the Greek army.
November 17th, The Polytechnic Uprise against the Junta
The day of the student rise against the Greek Junta of 1974.
On November 14th, students locked themselves in the Polytechnic School of Athens and protested for the Junta.
Three days later, a tank invaded the School and killed many of them.