August 15th, the Assumption of Mary, is a public holiday in Greece and one of the greatest celebrations for the Greek Orthodox Church. Cities are deserted and shops are closed, but tables are set in every churchyard, wine flows and folk music echoes through the night and until the early hours of the day! If you happen to be anywhere in sunny Greece around that time, visit one of the festivals in any of the numerous churches around the country and you shall not regret it. I’ve made a list of some of my favourite and not-to-be-missed ones, but rest assured; wherever you might be, there’s bound to be a festival waiting for you around the corner!
Sumela Monastery: The original Sumela monastery is perched upon a cliff in Mela Mountain, in Trabzon, modern Turkey. The Greek monastery in the Vermio Mountains was built by the Greeks who immigrated from Pontus to modern Greece and, as expected, the festival held here every August is a tribute to the Pontic culture and traditions.
Folegandros: It’s one of the most beautiful and yet-to-be-corrupted-by-tourism islands of the Cyclades. Like in all Greek islands, there are several churches and monasteries, but the main one towers over the Chora, the capital village. For the 15th August festival one single huge table is set in the churchyard and locals and visitors all sit around it to celebrate with local food and wine.
Nisyros: Church Panagia Spiliani, or Blessed Virgin Mary of the Cave, sits on a rock above the sea. As you can imagine, the view is simply breathtaking. The festival here lasts not one or two, but nine days!
Alonnisos: In this lovely island of the Sporades you are invited to participate in the revival of the traditional wedding! The groom, accompanied by friends, relatives and musicians, walks through the narrow cobbled streets of the village to get to the bride’s house. After the ceremony, local specialties and wine are served, and everyone is invited to dance until the morning light.
Icaria: The festival held every August in Christos Rahon is the only one around Greece to have its own fan club – and that says it all! You will find mainly young people here, you will drink and dance and participate in games until early –or perhaps late!- in the morning, and next year you’ll make sure you’re back for another round!
Tinos: Not exactly my favourite, but it just had to be included! If religious kitsch intrigues you, then you should definitely visit Panagia Megalochari. This church attracts pilgrims from all over Greece, and a good number of them make their way from the port to the church on their knees, hoping for a miracle from Virgin Mary – I’d say it’s very bad for your knees, but if you want to have the full experience, go ahead and try it!
Wherever this article finds you, remember: the Greeks say all it takes is good company!