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One of the biggest religious celebrations in Greece (after Easter and Christmas) is the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Panagia), on August 15. As it coincides with the height of summer, it’s a convenient celebration to experience while traveling in Greece. Each Greek region or island has local traditions attached to the festival. Here are a few places with the most unique and popular Assumption Day celebrations.
Dedicated to the dormition of the Virgin Mary, the day is a celebration of the reunion of a mother with her son rather than one of mourning. We highly recommend you attend a panigyri, a church-centered feast held in towns and villages to celebrate the local saints. If you find yourself in Greece on this special day, make sure to attend one of these fabulous celebrations, as they provide a taste of authentic life in Greece.
The little island of Tinos is a popular pilgrimage destination in Greece. The church of Panagia Evangelistria, home to a miraculous icon of the Virgin, sees thousands of people flock to its front porch, some even climbing up the stairs on their knees. The festivities include a procession of the icon, and lasts until the 23rd.
The 15th of August in Kefalonia (Cephalonia) is impressive, but in the village of Markopoulo (in the southeastern part of the island), a unique event takes place. Home to the church of Panagia Lagouvarda or Fidiotissa (Lady of the Snakes), hundreds of snakes appear in the church yard around the 6th of the month. Totally harmless, the reptiles are seen as a sign of good luck on the island. Locals and believers gather around to touch them, until they disappear on the 15th. Tradition has it that the snakes are nuns from the monastery that once stood on the current church grounds, who begged the Virgin to turn them into snakes when pirates invaded centuries ago. Today, thousands gather on the 15th August in the church’s courtyard to see the spectacle and to celebrate with music, dancing and food.
In Koufonisia, one of the lesser-known groups of islands in the Cyclades, locals celebrate the Assumption in the Chapel of the Virgin located on the uninhabited island of Kato Koufonisi. At the end of the service, food is served before participants are transported by boats to Pano Koufonisi, where music, seafood, ouzo and wine flow freely throughout the night.
The island of Ikaria is known for holding panigyria year-round, though the most popular are held in the summer. The panigyri of the 15th August is the most popular, especially in the village of Lagada. Prepare to dance, drink and eat until the wee hours of morning to traditional music, hand-in-hand with young and old, locals and visitors.
On the Cycladic island of Amorgos, the island of The Big Blue, the main event happens near Aigiali, by the church of Panagia Eptachoriani. Here, celebrations start on the 14th and last two days. After an evening mass, churchgoers and visitors are served nistisima dishes, or food without any meat or dairy products. The next day, after a church service, everyone gathers to eat together before joining on the village square for music and dancing.
The festivities here include believers walking 25 kilometers from the main city of Mytilene to the church of the Virgin in Agiassos. There, after the procession of the icon around the church, people share food and dance the night away on the main square to traditional local bands.
Zagoria, Epirus, is known for attracting thousands of people to its festivities, which last for three days. The best villages to visit are Tsepelovo and Vitsa, where you will get the chance to eat, drink and try traditional dances.
If you find yourself in Kozani, northern Greece, then head to Siatitsa for the 15th August, as the festivities here are unique. The fun starts on the Saturday before the 15th, with music and dance filling the town. But the highlight is undeniably the horsemen, known as kavalarides, who invite locals and guests to gather to the squares of Hora and Geranio to celebrate the special day. A mass and icon procession are held on the morning of the 15th at the Virgin Mary Monastery in Mikrokastro, then the party starts in Siatitsa.
The 15th August in Crete means reviving vibrant Cretan traditions, which imeans folklore at its best. On this special day, many villages will set up tables days before so that the feast can start right after mass. Get ready to try delicious Cretan fare for free, including local specialties, wine and raki.