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athens celebrations fireworks Protoxronia DP

Festivals in Greece: National Holidays and Celebrations in Greece

    In a country where you get two birthdays (your official birthday and a name day), you might be right in thinking that the Greek calendar is overflowing with festivals and celebrations throughout the year. Many of these are based around key religious dates in the Orthodox faith, whilst others are holidays of national importance.

    Here’s all you need to know about the major festivals, celebrations and holidays.

    TIPS

    And these are only the main dates! There are dozens more, varying from region to region.

    If you are planning your family vacation in Greece and would like to know which festivals are happening during your visit, contact Kids Love Greece today. We’ll be able to let you know what events are happening during your visit, so you can really get a taste of Greek culture!

    Also, check out the list of National Holidays as shops and archaeological sites might be close. Plan ahead or consult our team.

    A Calendar Year of National Holidays and Celebrations

    January 1st – Protohronia

    The year starts off with the feast day of Agios Vasilis (–Saint Basil, the Greek Santa Claus).

    In addition to religious services, Greeks start off the year with a sweet breakfast pastry consisting of semolina, custard, or cheese called bougatsa.

    Foodies Feast of Heraklion Family Food Tour Crete Gastronomy Kidslovegreece culture Foodies Feast of Heraklion Family Food Tour Crete Gastronomy Kidslovegreece culture bougatsa pies loukoumades oil cheese herbs bougatsa pies loukoumades

    The first person to enter a Greek’s house smashes a pomegranate on the front door. The more seeds that are scattered, the more luck that household will have for the year to come.

    On January 1st, Greeks also share a cake called vasilopita, and hide a coin inside. The person who gets the piece with the coin is the lucky one!

    Vasilopita New year cake protohronia

    January 6th – Epiphany (Fota)

    Celebrated across Greece, the blessing of the waters is followed by a priest releasing a white pigeon and throwing a cross into the waters of rivers, lakes and ports, anywhere young locals could dive to retrieve it. ‘Swimming at the time of year is only for the brave but the one who gets the cross is forever blessed!

    epiphany-pixabay-Greece1160792_1280
    Image by Dimitris Vetsikas from Pixabay

    February-March – Carnival (Apokries)

    Greek carnival festivities are celebrated with parties, feasts, and parades three weeks before Lent starts (everyone, kids in particular, get the chance to get dressed up in brilliant costumes).

    The best places to attend prescheduled parades are the islands of Crete (the town of Rethymno in particular) and Corfu, but, mainly, the city of Patra.

    Tsiknopempti (Meat Thursday) is at the epicenter of this period, with several festivities all over the country. It is a Thursday when, in preparation for transitioning to a vegetarian diet for Lent, communities consume large quantities of grilled meat, the scent of which fills up the air (tsikna being the Greek word for cooking meat smoke).

    * The Carnival period exact dates vary from year to year as defined by the Greek Orthodox calendar

    March 25th – Independence Day

    Expect celebrations marking the declaration of the Revolutionary War against the ruling Ottomans, with military and school parades all over the country.

    On this day, Greeks eat a special dish which consists of fried bakaliaros (cod fish) and skordalia (garlic spread).

    11-day family vacation package in Greece athens kids love greece holiday packages for families the Greek Parliament tsoliades city tour
    The change of the guards or ‘Tsoliades’ at Syntagma Square, Athens

    Greek Easter

    Clean (Kathara) Deutera

    Greek Lent starts on the so-called “Clean” (Kathara) Monday. Symbolically, on that day, Greeks fly kites in the sky, an act that symbolizes reaching up high and joining the heavens. Parents and children spend time outdoors together, enjoying veggie and seafood-rich lunches with family and friends.

    During Kathara Deutera, parents and children spend time outdoors together, flying kites and enjoy eating veggies, seafood-rich lunches with family and friends.

    Kite Kathara Deutera celebration

    In Kathara Deutera, Greeks eat a bread called Lagana with taramosalata dip.

    Lagana Kathara Deutera festivals and celebrations Greece

    Greek Easter Holy Week

    Easter is a pleasant period of time to be in Greece weather-wise. It is the celebration Greeks treasure the most. The Spring season is delightful as several flowers bloom and trees blossom. Different events are held during the Greek Easter Holy week.

    Paying a visit to churches and monasteries around that period of time is an interesting cultural experience full of mesmerizing sounds, beautiful aromas, and colorful images. You are always welcome to join in the Greek tradition of lighting up a candle and making a wish as you enter holy spaces. 

    Holy Thursday

    Greeks dye the eggs red on Holy Thursday. Read here about this tradition.

    If you are into cooking, you could also bake Easter cookies and Easter bread any day during the Easter Holy Week. Read more about the Greek Easter Bread and the differences between Challah bread and Brioche.

    Easter egg and tsoureki DP

    Holy Friday – Epitaphy (Epitafios)

    A graceful, candlelit procession takes place on “Great” (as the Greeks call “Good”) Friday evening, following the Epitaphy, namely the tomb of Christ.

    Epitaphy Greece Epitafios celebration

    Holy Saturday

    Upon Christ’s Resurrection, which takes place on Saturday, right by midnight, people head home to crack red-dyed eggs and eat the magiritsa soup (-a meat and vegetable broth which officially breaks down the fasting period).

    Greek easter magiritsa DP
    Magiritsa Soup

    Easter Sunday

    On Easter Sunday, the smell of roast lamb and other meat delicacies is everywhere. Big parties with families and friends are organized which long the whole day. Wherever in Greece, you may be, just follow the smell and the laughter!

    Greek easter lamb kororetsi food DP
    Greek lamb

    * Greek Easter dates vary from year to year as defined by the Greek Orthodox calendar

    May 1st

    For Greeks, May 1st is Labor Day, but also a flower feast.

    Greeks welcome the power of nature into their homes by decorating them with flower wreaths. They get out in the fields, handpicking lowers and knitting them together, while enjoying delicious lunches and spending time with family and friends.

    May 1 Protomagia Greece KLG (2)

    May 21st

    On May 21, during the celebrations for Saint Helen and Constantine, in northern Greece, possessed participants, the so-called anastenarides (namely those who sigh) walk barefoot and dance ecstatically on live, glowing coals (in St. Eleni hear Serres and at Langada near Thessaloniki). 

    Anastenarides festivals and celebrations Greece

    June 24 – St. John

    The 24th of June is a big summer festivity. It is the day of Saint John, when neighbors gather the wreaths and burn them in a big fire, which they then jump over.

    According to popular belief, this brings purification (catharsis) and humans get free of evil. Saint John is also called Riganas because around that time people would go and harvest oregano (rigani in Greek).

    July – the month of Paniyiria

    The month of the paniyiria! Famous throughout Greece are the traditional feast days that celebrate July Saints’ names. That’s:

    July 17 (Marina), July 20 (Elias), July 25 (Anna), July 26 (Paraskevi) & July 27 (Panteleimon)

    Lots of feasts take place throughout this hot month when people spend lots of time partying outdoors.

    Paniyiria can be attended by thousands of people as they usually take place at the churchyard or a town’s main square. Don’t miss the unique opportunity to party with the Greeks amidst village surroundings, plenty of traditional food, live music, and non-stop dancing. Feasts typically start in the early afternoon and go on until the next morning!

    Crete Greece paniyiria festivals

    August 15th

    This is a very important day for the Greek Orthodox Church and for Greeks, who celebrate the Dormition of the Virgin (also called the Assumption of Mary). Instead of grief, however, the day is meant to enjoy and celebrate the mother of Christ’s qualities, as Greeks believe that “Holiest of All” (Panayia) did not die but ascended to Heaven.

    This day is also known as the Easter of the summer because it is the peak of the summer period. The whole of Greece turns into one big festival, as there is not a single rock in the country without a chapel dedicated to the Holy Mother!

    Greek Church Greece Candles Easter Christmas Traditions Orthodox

    October 28th – Ohi (NO) Day

    Greeks celebrate saying “NO-OHI” to the Italians who had asked for their surrender during World War II. Military and school parades take place.

    Greek-Parade-2 (1)

    November 17th – School of Polytechnics

    This is the celebration of the Polytechnic uprising against the Junta (military dictatorship).

    In recent years this day has been somewhat hijacked by the fringe left and anarchist groups particularly in Athens. We would suggest staying out of the center of Athens on this date.

    December 25th – Christmas Day

    On Christmas Eve, children go from door to door singing Christmas carols.

    People attend religious services and spend quality, family time together on Christmas Day. Children enjoy making and consuming great amounts of honey– (melomakarona) and butter cookies garnished with luscious layers of icing sugar (kourabiedes).

    Various Christmas traditional desserts on the table
    Various Christmas traditional desserts on the table
    TIPS

    If you are planning your family vacation in Greece and would like to know which festivals are happening during your visit, contact Kids Love Greece today.

    We’ll be able to let you know what events are happening during your visit, so you can get a genuine taste of Greek culture and party like a Greek!

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