The most-loved festivals in Greece are connected to the Greek Orthodox religious calendar and are celebrated with enormous enthusiasm across the entire country. Easter week is the favorite, with Christmas a close second. The majority of the rest of the annual events are linked with traditional cultural celebrations such as music, dance, and food as an ever-popular draw.
New Year’s Day
After New Year’s Eve common to all countries, Greece celebrates New Year’s Day as St Basil’s Day, with church services followed by festive seasonal gifts to the children, commemorating the Three Kings and their gifts to the baby Jesus.
This traditional festival falls in January at the end of the 12 days of Christmas. It’s a ceremony to bless the waters of the sea, rivers, and lakes in order to banish evil spirits, with its origins lost in the mists of time. Taking place in Piraeus, as well as in fishing villages all over the country, it involves a local priest hurling a crucifix into the water, followed by young men diving in to retrieve them.
The pre-Lent Carnival festivities take place in Athens, Greece and across the country in February, with traditional costumes worn by all, street parties, food and wine, and all kinds of traditional and modern entertainment. Kite-flying is a standard game, while eating and drinking to joyful excess are a must.
Greek Orthodox Easter
Holy week for the Orthodox Church falls later than the Catholic Easter, with celebrations beginning on Palm Sunday and continuing until late on Easter Sunday. Good Friday sees candlelit processions, but midnight on Easter Saturday is the heart of the celebration, with massive fireworks displays and the ceremony of the Holy Flame. A priest carries the flame from church at 12:00 p.m. and lights worshippers’ candles until the area is a sea of flickering flames. Special foods include red-painted Easter eggs and roast lamb, with the traditional fast broken after midnight on Easter Saturday.
Feast of St George
St George of dragon-slayer fame is Greece’s patron saint, as well as the patron of many Greek towns and villages. His day, April 23, sees celebrations across the country involving parades, church services, and street fun, often including costumed reenactments of the hero’s victory over the dragon.
Officially known as International Workers’ Day, May 1 in Greece sees the pagan Festival of the Flowers, traditionally linked with deities Persephone and Demeter. Wreathes of May flowers are hung on doors and buildings, and parades of flower-decorated floats take place.
This theatrical and musical event runs every June through August at the spectacular Greek amphitheater at Epidaurus. Every Friday and Saturday evening, the massive stone theater with its amazing acoustics hosts recreations of famous classical plays, concerts, and recitals, truly a unique experience to relive history.
A community event, as well as a family feast, Christmas sees midnight masses, sparkling Christmas trees, and carols on Christmas Eve. Families reunite for the festivities and Christmas markets, dance and music processionals, and Christmas lights all set the holiday spirit. Many hotels offer special Christmas and New Year packages and, although the weather isn’t at its warmest, the Greek people compensate with their love of this season.