Holidays in Greece

Holidays in Greece

For a variety of reasons, there are numerous holidays, festivals, and celebrations that observe national events and theological beliefs throughout the year in Greece.

For instance, there are days dedicated to the Greek Revolution, the Orthodox religion, the progress of the year from the winter to summer, and the Hellenic nation in general. Notably, one can indulge in special foods connected directly to these said occasions.

New Year's Eve (January 1st)
Every year in Greece, the first day of the year is celebrated with an abundance of sentiment, food, wine, and dance! The first day of the year is called "Protochronia" (Πρωτοχρονιά). In Greek homes across the land, bakes the traditional "vasilopita" (def. "king cake), which contains a coin within it. The sweet is then shared amongst loved ones to see who gets the piece with the coin in it. The winner is promised to have luck for the whole year! Other charmed foods synonymous with this holiday are pomegranates along with pork. Break the fruit for the year to provide luck to the family and every individual in the dwelling.

Epiphany (January 6th)
In accordance with Hellenic Culture around the world, there is a feast of the Theophany or "Phota" (def. "lights"). It is a custom that is related to the Great Blessing of the Waters. It is a celebration marking the end of the traditional ban of sailing - as the winter seas are cleansed of the mischief-prone "kallikantzaroi" - goblins that try to torment the Christians through the festive seasons. The ritual of the ceremony: a Christian cross is thrown into the water and men jump into the holy waters to retrieve it for good luck. The "Phota" tend to form a triangle of events along with Epiphany Eve on January 6th, which is a celebration that children sing the Epiphany Carols and the great fest of St. John the Baptist on January 7th – when all male and female 'John and Joanne' namesakes are celebrated.

Apokries (lasts for 3 weeks before the Lent period in February)
One of the most looked forward to festivities in Greece is the Carnival or "Apokries" (def. "saying goodbye to meat"). Greeks from all over the country celebrate this festival that leads us from ancient to modern times. The most famous and spectacular events take place in the city of Patra. Carnival season is a grand celebration in the Peloponnesian city. Thousands of people from all over Greece gather each year in Patra to watch the amazing float parades joining in with dance, music, and parties. In the city of Xanthi, in Northern Greece, a huge event takes place that offers to its spectators' unbelievable experiences, focused on local traditional music and folk dances. People from all over the city dance in disguise, playing pranks and having a good time. In Galaxidi central Greece, people gather for the Flour Throwing Festival. In that battle, over 1.5 tons of colored flour is used as a weapon against tourists and locals attending the insane war event. This creates a bright atmosphere, starting in the beginning as a war and later ending up as a fun party with people running and dancing in the streets, throwing flour in the air.

Clean Monday (48 days before Orthodox Easter)
Celebrated with outdoor excursions, the consumption of shellfish and other fasting food, a special kind of bread – baked only on that day - called "Lagana" and the flying of kites, "Kathari Deftera" (def. "Clean Monday") is celebrated throughout Greece and Cyprus. During lent, eating meat, eggs, and dairy products are traditionally forbidden in the Orthodox Christian church. Fish is eaten only on major feast days and shellfish is permitted in European denominations. This is brought down to the tradition of eating elaborate dishes based on seafood, fish roe, etc. In Ivan Bunin's critically acclaimed story, he states that it is traditionally considered to be the beginning of the Spring season.

25th of March (Evangelismos tis Theotokou & Independence Day)
This is the famous day that the beginning of the Greek Revolution is celebrated. There is also a Christian Orthodox celebration that occurs on the same day. With special ceremonies and events, rooted in ancient times, several cities around Greece commemorate the 25th of March in unique ways as well as with wreath deposits and parades. In Elatochori of Pieria, groups of small children and teenagers, on the 14th of March, march across the village's roads with sheep bells hanging from their necks and holding fire torches in their hands. This particular custom brings us back in time to the Turkish rule in Greece when it was people that would light big fires and jump over them and dance with traditional music so to welcome Spring. In the area of Epirus, one day before the Evangelismos Orthodox Celebration, we can find a similar custom that is a part of the tradition of the 24th March. It is children that run around the land knocking pans and other kitchenware. This noise is for snakes to be driven away, burst forth from hibernation. On the island of Skiathos, in the Sporades cluster, the customs "Eothinon" and "Torch" during the last few years were revived. The celebration of "Eothinon" means the celebratory of the waking of the island and it occurs on the 25th of March at 5 o'clock in the morning. The "Torch" commemoration takes place at 8 o'clock in the evening on March 25th and is a celebration of children running in the streets with torches and candles. It is a custom that is alive since the Ottoman occupation era. It is a combination of the Resurrection of Christ with the nation's revival - namely the liberation of Greece from the Turks. This holy Lights of the Resurrection is in analogy with the Light of the Liberty in the historical custom.

Good Friday (the Friday immediately preceding Easter Sunday)
It is millions of Orthodox Christians that commemorate the events leading up to Jesus's crucifixion. Good Friday, or The Great Friday as it is called in Greece, is a day of mourning in the Orthodox Church. Believers are reminded of the drama of Christ's death with great devoutness. They tend to take off the icon of Jesus from the cross, wrapped in linen, and place it in the Epitaph, symbolizing his tomb. Followed by a procession of the faithful, the mini-monument is carried across every Greek town, village, or neighborhood late at night. To express people's sorrow, on some occasions, a band or a choir follows the procession and plays along or even sings solemn music. Altar boys carry the liturgical fans and the Epitaph is followed by cantors, clergy members and women bear myrrh. There are people throughout the procession that scatter flowers and perfume on the tomb while they hold lit candles in their hands. In the city of Athens, women used to clean the streets just before the Epitaph. As soon as the procession arrived they would stand at their doors holding a roof tile containing a small piece of charcoal and incense. All around Greece, many people sip vinegar on Good Friday. In Crete, locals boil snails and drink their very bitter juice. In a place called Koroni in Peloponnese, people do not drink anything during the whole day. In many Greek villages, many men don't do any kind of manual activity – especially using their nails – because it resembles the way that Jesus died. On the island of Naxos, people don't kiss because of the kiss that betrayed Jesus by Judas. All women gather around to clean the churches and to decorate the Epitaph before the following of the procession. On Syros island, Easter is celebrated with great amity. The Orthodox and the Catholic religious communities, commemorate the death of Jesus Christ together. On the Cyclades islands, Christians and Catholics tend to celebrate together. It is perhaps the only region of the world that this happens. 2 religious worlds meet at the island's main square to celebrate Good Friday with great devoutness and mutual respect.

Easter & Easter Monday
Everyone is up early the next morning to prepare for the Easter Sunday dinner, despite being up throughout the evening for the jubilant Resurrection feast. Easter Sunday, the most celebrated of the Holy Week, is a feast of lamb served in honor of the lamb of God. The entire day is celebrated with food, music, friends, wine, and a lot of dancing - with an entire lamb usually roasted on a spit outdoors. A day of rest after the week-long festivities is "Easter Monday". What people do is they take the day to prepare for the return to school or work. Families take the day to revisit the events of the past week and leftovers from the celebration are eaten on that particular day. Banks and post offices are closed because Easter Monday is a public holiday.

Protomagia (May 1st)
May 1st is celebrated with a feast is called "Protomagia" (def. "first day of May"). 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. Similar to the American "Labor Day", it is a day off for everyone. In Greek mythology, the goddess of the harvest Demeter, after the abduction of her daughter by Hades, the god of the underworld, deeply in sorrow and blinded by her anger for losing her precious daughter, all of the plants stopped growing, the flowers withered and died, and the land became desolate. While her daughter was with Hades, in the underworld, it was Fall and Winter on earth. And when Persephone returned, it became Spring and Summer. Along with the flowering of Mother Nature, where wildflowers cover hillsides, Greek families enjoy picnics in the countryside to celebrate and to enjoy nature itself. After the collection of the flowers, people traditionally hang wreaths out on their doors to make the entrance of the home even more colorful and happy looking.

Pentecost (Easter + 49 days)
Mainly emphasized on a Saturday, "Pentikosti" (def. "the 50th [day]") is a week-long celebration. It is the observance regarding the totality of the human soul. Traditionally, housekeepers cook the ritual "koliva" (made of wheat kernels, honey, or sugar) on Friday eve for them to make visitations upon the priests at church.

15th of August
Usually taking place on one of the hottest days of the whole year, Greeks celebrate Holy Mother day. Festivals occur throughout the country - with traditional songs, wine, food, and dance. The island of Tinos traditionally hosts the biggest Assumption Day festivities. Then thousands of pilgrims from all over the country flock to the famous church on the island.

Ochi Day (October 28th)
It is one of the holidays which best illustrates the historic pride of the Greek citizens. "Ochi" (def. "No") Day is celebrated throughout Greece and people commemorate the fact that Greece stood up and rejected the ultimatum made by Mussolini to the Hellenic people to stand down on October 28th, 1940. All of the important cities in Greece have military parades. Coastal towns also have naval parades amongst other celebrations. It is a beautiful array of colors and activities since everyone celebrates this amazing day with Greek Flags flown across the country with great pride.

Christmas (December 25th & December 26th)
A normal period of holidays in Greece lasting 12 days. The common habit of a house is to be decorated late. This will be just a few days before Christmas Eve. Most Greeks will make gifts for each other during Christmas even though they traditionally exchange gifts on New Year's Eve. A must for an individual is to enjoy the time-honored, delectable sweets, "kourabiedes" (walnut, powdered sugar cookies), and "melomakarona" (walnut, honey-drenched cookies) during this time of the year. This is a celebration dedicated to Holy Mother Mary. According to Christian beliefs, the Glorifying Mother of God, the mother of Jesus. In the Greek language, she is also known as "Theotokos". This very day is considered to be a public holiday, just because it is the day after Christmas. In countries other than Greece, people also have a public holiday after Christmas, named Boxing Day. In Greece, this day is called "The Synaxis of the Mother of God".


Greek Celebrations & Festivals
Cultural Festivals in Athens
Athletic Festivals in Athens
Holidays in Greece
Namedays in Greece


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