Festivals in Greece & the islands
There are many sorts of festivals in Greece that take place mainly in summer, on the mainland and on the Greek islands.
Many festivals have a religious base and are in accordance with the Orthodox calendar. The Orthodox calendar is similar to the Catholic, except for Easter sometimes. Those Greek festivities are a major part of Greek culture.
Other important festivals in Greece have a cultural nature. Many concerts and music festivals take place in Greece.
World-known festivals include:
- The Athens Epidaurus Festival: 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 Thessaloniki International Film Festival: During the annual institution, several events related to cinema take place in Thessaloniki.
Moreover, the country has an interesting music scene, especially in the summertime, with many appearances from national and international musicians and bands.
Our guide presents 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 - New Year's Day
January 1st is the Feast of Agios Vassilis (Saint Basil), celebrated with church services. Noteworthy is the fact that Saint Basil is the traditional Greek version of Santa Claus.
That day, all Greek families cut the vasilopita, a cake with a coin inside that 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 vividly all over the country.
January 6th - The Epiphany
This is the feast of Theofania, or Fota, which celebrates the baptism of Jesus by Saint John the Baptist.
During Epiphany, waters are blessed and evil spirits are banished.
At the 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 or March - The Carnival
The Carnival, called Apokries in Greek, is expressed by three weeks of feasting and dancing.
The Carnival takes place three weeks before Clean Monday.
Lively Carnival Parades take place in Patra, Xanthi, Corfu and Rethymno with full-of-life parties. In recent years, Naxos is also offering a very impressive show.
The exact dates of the Carnival vary, depending on Easter. The Carnival ends 7 weeks before Easter.
March 25th - The Feast of the Annunciation
On this day, the Christians celebrate the announcement of the incarnation of Christ to the Virgin Mary by Archangel Gabriel.
This day coincides with a National Holiday in Greece, the day when the Greeks declared the Revolutionary War against the Turks, on March 25th, 1821.
For that reason, military parades take place in all Greek towns.
Easter is the most important festival of the Greek Orthodox Church.
It starts 7 weeks before Easter 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 Christ (named Epitaphios) are gathered at the squares and make a tour of the villages & towns.
The peak of Easter is on Good Saturday 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 the Holy Light with their close neighbors until the entire church and 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 the sign of a cross above their door with the black smoke of the candle. This custom is supposed to bring good fortune to the house.
After midnight, families and friends eat magiritsa, a soup made from lamb offal, rice, dill and lemon.
The next day, on Sunday, a lamb is skewered and grilled for lunch, accompanied by wines and dances. It is also officially the end of fasting that started on Clean Monday, 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 the evening of Easter Sunday.
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 throughout the country.
Great festivities also take place in Arachova, Skiathos, Skyros and other Greek areas, where Saint George is considered their patron saint. Celebrations in Arachova last for three days.
May or June - The Day of the Holy Spirit
The day that the Holy Spirit presented to the Apostles and asked them to teach Christianity to the world is celebrated in Greece. The feast takes place 40-50 days after Easter and 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 regions of Greece, particularly on the islands of Tinos, Paros, and Patmos which host enormous churches dedicated to the Holy Mother of Christ.
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 (kalanta) 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.
Because of the occasion of this celebration, strikes are held in all fields, including transport (public transport, ferries and airplanes), and large marches are held in the center of Athens.
October 28th, National Anniversary
This day is characterized by military parades. It is also called "Ohi Day", meaning the Day of the No, in honor of 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 opposition against the Greek Junta of 1974.
On November 14th, students locked themselves in the Polytechnic School of Athens and protested against the Junta.
Three days later, a tank invaded the School and killed many of them.