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August 15 holiday is an important event in Greece, a national day. On the Greek Islands, it is celebrated with festivals and traditions that honor the Assumption of Mary. The festivals often feature Greek music, dancing, colorful parades, and performances by local musicians, along with traditional Greek dishes like loukoumades (deep-fried dough balls) and spetsofai (a dish made with pork, peppers, and tomato sauce).
August 15 is also a religious public holiday in the Greek Islands. Churches often hold special services to honor the Assumption of Mary. It is a time of celebration and reflection for many people living on the Greek Islands. Whether you’re there to celebrate the August 15 holiday or to experience the culture, it’s worth visiting a Greek Island to participate in the festivities. You’re sure to find something unique that will stay with you for years.
Traditions of the August 15 holiday on the Greek islands
1. Kefalonia – Ta Fidakia tis Panagias
Loosely translates as the small snakes of the Holy Virgin. How may a sentence like this connect to a religious celebration? On Kefalonia, one of the most stunningly gorgeous Greek islands, there is a church devoted to the Holy Virgin. These wee animals take over the bell tower on the 15th of August and are then taken into the church’s yard for tourists to view. According to Greek legend, they would bring good luck to the entire island and everyone who chose to touch them.
It is arguably most recognized as the most enjoyable ritual of the day. After the church service has been completed and the attendees have been provided food by the townspeople in the churchyard, it is time for everyone to return home. Your classic white Greek boats are there to pick passengers up and take them back home. However, they decided to do it distinctively by conducting an unplanned boat race that meant respecting the significant day for Greek Orthodox Christians anywhere in the globe.
The island that is also known as the island of Orthodoxy, a procession that started in the Byzantine years, takes place in the ancient way of the Apocalypse. Tourists and locals join the procession in an atmosphere of religious devotion that is accentuated by the historical uniqueness of this exceptional island.
The top pilgrimage Greek destination is Tinos, the Cycladic island with the Virgin Mary chapel, which has become its hallmark. The day of the Assumption is the most important day of the year. Thousands of pilgrims go to the church’s holy image, many of whom travel from the island’s dock up the big hill where the church is located! A sense of wonder and respect sweeps over the community when the image is carried in procession.
The paleo-Christian Virgin Mary of Ekatontapiliani in Paroikia, the island’s capital, is one of the most spectacular churches in the Aegean. The procession of the symbol is followed by people dancing to local traditional beats while drinking island wine. Just a few kilometers distant and a few hours later, scores of caïques with glowing torches approach the port of Naoussa.
All pilgrims come on donkeys at Panagia Panochoriani on Amorgos Island. Braised pork with potatoes and vinegar (a consommé) is one of the island’s delicacies, served with copious amounts of rakomelo (a combination of raki liquor and honey).
The largest feast on Kasos is celebrated in the hamlet of Panagia, where ancient practices are still practiced. This is an excellent day to pay a visit, sample ntolmadakia (fresh vine leaves packed with rice), and unwind to the sounds of lyres and lutes.
Ikaria Island is the uncontested queen of festivals, with violins playing till morning across to the towns of Lagada, Christo Rachon, Gialiskari, and Kouniadous. In mid-August, people throng the island, notably young, come here to perform the indigenous Ikarian dance, and sample the local goat dish and the powerful red wine.
Read more: Tipping in Greece: The Greek Tipping Guide
The August 15 holiday is a special time to be on the Greek Islands and an experience not to be missed. The festivals and traditions are a great way to learn about the culture and honor the Assumption of Mary. Make the August 15 holiday a priority on your next trip to the Greek Islands!