Greek Festivals

Many of the most important Greek festivals honor religious traditions, national pride and the performing arts. It only seems befitting that the birthplace of the Greek tragedy and the developing grounds for modern philosophy would celebrate a number of performances and plays throughout the year. While there are many small holidays or events, the following are some of the most significant Greece cultural events.

Easter is a particularly important holiday for Greeks, topping even Christmas. This sacred day among Greece cultural events is celebrated vigorously throughout Greece. The celebrations begin on Good Friday with processions leading out of the main village or neighborhood churches. During these processions, the Epithaphio, or tomb of Christ, is decorated with flowers and carried from the church to the cemetery. After Christ is laid to rest, everybody lights a candle and the people return the church to kiss an image of Christ. In Athens, if you are lucky, you’ll spot a trail of candles coming down from the church atop Lykavittos Hill. The next day, Greeks prepare for midnight mass. Just before midnight, the lights of the church are turned off and when midnight falls, the priest lights a candle, which he uses to light the candle of the closest person to him. This flame is passed to all while the priest chants the Byzantine religious chant of Christos Anesti. People then move outside where they celebrate with fireworks and exchange the sayings, “Christos Anestis” and “Alithos Anesti”. These translate to “God has arisen” and “yes He has”. Later that night, families return home for a large feast called the “Resurrection Meal”. On Sunday, the feast continues and people celebrate with wine and ouzo long into the night. During Easter, it is customary to dye eggs red for the blood of Christ. It is also customary for Godparents to buy a candle, new shoes and clothes for their godchildren. In many villages, the streets and outsides of homes are whitewashed. During Easter celebrations, some towns like Rhodes and Chania burn an effigy of either Judas or Barabbas.

Some years in February, but primarily in March, visitors can combine Greek festivals and tours with trips to any one of the villages where the best Carnival celebrations are held. If you are in Greece for Carnival, consider arranging your tour to any number of towns like Naousa, Chios, Zante, Thebes or the Plaka neighborhood of Athens, where celebrations are particularly enjoyable. The Greeks call Carnival “Apokrias”, and it is not unlike the New Orleans Mardi Gras, or the Carnevale in Venice. In Patras, Carnival is celebrated with the most enthusiasm.

While summer in Greece is one big mixed festival it seems, one of the main Greece cultural events takes place in Athens. The Hellenic Festival is held every year during the summer months and is a conglomeration of other various festivals. Part of the Hellenistic Festival are the Athens Festival, the Epidaurus Festival and “Musical July”. The Athens Festival events are held primarily in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre with performances by national and international artists. The Epidaurus Festival is a theatre festival and many plays and performances are housed at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus and the Little Theatre of Epidaurus. Other musical performances during the Hellenic Festival are held at Lykavittos Hill, and they typically are popular music concerts offering classic world-known groups or artists. Other summer festivals that might interest you are the July and August festival of Hippocrateia on the island of Kos, and the July-September Rennaissance Festival in Rethymnon Crete. The former celebrates the birth of Hippocrates with athletic events and concerts. The latter celebrates, with much fanfare, the island’s history as a haven for Byzantine scholars and artists who fled to Crete after the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453. Many of these figures help to spur the Rennaissance upon leaving Crete for mainland Europe.

Thessaloniki is home to some of the biggest Greece events, namely the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the International Trade Fair. The Thessaloniki International Film Festival is one of the top Greece festivals, attracting famous directors and actors of both the cinema and theater. This festival, which is held in November, is the most important film festival in the region, and as for Europe, it follows only in importance the Cannes Film Festival in France and the Venice Film Festival in Italy. The International Trade Fair is held at the beginning of September and is important among Greece events because it is the place where Greece’s Prime Minister gives a speech detailing governmental plans for the upcoming year.

A most important day among Greece events is March 25, when Greeks celebrate their Independence Day. The day goes back to 1821, when the Greeks rebelled against the Ottoman Empire, which had controlled Greece for almost 400 years. Another important day in Greece events is Clean Monday. This takes place on the first day of Lent, and it is typical for Greek families to gather for a picnic and fly paper kites on this day.

These are the main holidays or Greek festivals. For further consideration, the Athens Concert Hall provides the venue for many important Greece events in the way of performances. The Athens Concert Hall is among the more modern and impressive concert halls in the world. The Thessaloniki Concert Hall also serves as a venue for many Greece cultural events and the winter and summer productions at the Greek National Opera are a popular ticket as well.

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