P. Laskarakis

August Religious Festivals on Greek Islands

Every year on the 15th of August the Orthodox Church celebrates the Virgin Mary, where thousands of pilgrims make use of the numerous shrines dedicated to "Her Grace". The ritual of the day begins with the veneration of the Virgin icon and continues with various church fetes: locals and visitors experience the reunion, the "togetherness." The festivals represent an authentic way of depicting the local cultural identity.

On this festive day, in the precinct of the temples or in the villages squares great celebrations are organized. Lutes, bagpipes, violins and traditional dances light up the mood. This is an excellent opportunity to savour wine and a variety of local dishes served on large tables set for the occasion. There is no island in Greece on this particular day that doesn’t hold a celebration, however some stand out either for their special traditions or their unique atmosphere!

Let’s head towards the islands....

  • Panagia Kastriani Monastery stands on a steep windswept cliff on Kea (also known as Tzia) Island. A big festival is held in the monastery’s yard, where traditional patatato (braised meat with potatoes) and local sweet wine are served.
  • In Koimiseos Church in Folegandros a big table is set for all attendees.
  • In Panagia Panochoriani on Amorgos Island all pilgrims arrive on donkeys. The local specialties offered are braised meat with potatoes and vinegar (a variety of consommé) accompaniment with abundant rakomelo (a mix of raki spirit with honey) originating from the island.
  • The festival of "Xylopanagia» in Serifos lasts three whole days. Tradition has it that the couple that opens the first dance around the large olive tree by the church will be married within the year!
  • The dances in Filoti, on the island of Naxos, stand out for their traditional costumes and the sounds of the violin, lute and bagpipe.
  • On Andros Island, Panagia Thalassini, a picturesque church in the sea holds a big celebration where traditional froutalia (a kind of omelet) and almond drink (referred to as soumada) are offered.
  • The annual big festival in Parikia, οn Paros Island, is held for the sake of Panagia Ekatontapyliani with pilgrims flocking to the island from all over Greece to worship and attend the glorious celebrations.
  • Tinos Island is considered to be the capital of Religious Tourism in Greece. The church of Panagia of Tinos (also known as Megalohari) holds an annual celebration with events lasting up to August 23rd, commemorating the sinking of the warship "Elli" - by the Italians on 15th August 1940 - alongside other church festivities.

  • The church of Panagia of Olympos is celebrated on Karpathos Island. The functions are connected with mourning for the "departure" of the Virgin Mary. The celebration culminates with a men’s slow dance followed by women dressed in traditional costumes.
  • The biggest feast of the island of Kasos is held in the village of Panagia where traditional customs are well preserved. This is an ideal day to pay a visit, try out ntolmadakia (fresh vine leaves stuffed with rice) and loosen up to the sounds of lyres and lutes.
  • The festival of Panagia Spiliani on Nisyros Island, holds its local tradition celebration for a nine day period (the Niamero of Panagia), starting from the 6th to mid-August. Enjoy dances and lots of local wine.
  • In Portatissa on Astypalaia Island, don’t miss the local’s unique festival where you must go through certain tests before tasting their delicious stuffed lamb referred to as Labrino.

  • In the Northeast Aegean on the island of Lesvos, the church of Panagia Agiasotissa holds a festival where pilgrims walk 25 km from the town of Mytilene to the church’s courtyard.
  • The undisputed queen of festivals is Ikaria Island, where the violins’ notes resonate til dawn across to Lagada, Christo Rachon, Gialiskari and Kouniadous villages. In mid August visitors swarm the island, especially young, arriving here to dance the local Ikarian dance, taste the local goat recipe and the strong red wine.

  • A major attraction for pilgrims, on the island of Kefalonia in Markopoulo village, are the tiny harmless snakes of the Virgin Mary, bearing a crucifix pattern on their head. They make their appearance every year in mid-August on the dome of Panagia Lagkouvardas Church. Legend has it, that the nuns of an old monastery in the region prayed to the Virgin Mary to transform them into snakes in order to avoid falling into pirates’ hands. In the village Pastra, lilies placed on the icon of the Virgin Mary in Panagia Gravaliotissa Church, bloom twice a year. Both of the above mentioned villages are visited by hundreds of people every year in order to attend their festivals.
  • On Corfu Island in the villages Stavros, Karousades and Peroulades the mid August Festivals are a major attraction.

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