Rather than Christmas trees, festive boats are the traditional centerpiece of many Greek homes. These symbols of the strong connection to the sea reflect the importance placed on families with seafaring members.
Clean Monday, an island holiday, brings the community together. In villages, a church holds an icon procession and locals dance to traditional music and island wine.
1. Agios Gerasimos
The beautiful island of Kefalonia has many awe-inspiring sights to visit. For example, the castle Paleokastro, the house of Laskaratos and the monastery of Panagia Kehrionos. It is also home to the holy site of Agios Gerasimos. The saint is the patron of Kefalonia and his relics can be found at a monastery in the Omala Valley.
The saint was born into an aristocratic family and his great-grandfather was the last Prime Minister of the Byzantine Empire. He was ordained as a monk at Mount Athos, visited Jerusalem for 12 years and traveled to Crete and Zakynthos before arriving on the island of Kefalonia in 1555. Upon his arrival, he stayed for five years in a cave in Lassi as a hermit.
Each year, people flock to the monastery of Agios Gerasimos and pray in front of his relics. He is considered to be a source of grace for the islanders and his name is invoked in times of distress. The saint’s feast days are celebrated on August 16 and 20th. On these occasions, people lay down so that his relics can pass over them. This is because they believe that the saint has the power to heal them.
Agios Gerasimos is located at the Omala Monastery which can be reached by driving through Rosata and then the villages of Fragata and Valsamata. It is around a 11-kilometer drive from Argostoli.
2. Kefalonia Wine Festival
The island of Kefalonia certainly knows how to party. Throughout the year, towns and villages across the island host festivities to honor their patron saints. But in August, the entire island is engulfed with merriment and dancing. You can expect huge parades and even more so at the feast of St Gerasimos.
Kefalonians are very big on wine, which is probably why this festival was created in the first place. During the event, you’ll get the chance to taste as much Robola wine as you like and enjoy local dishes as well.
You can also wander around the local flea market and visit a monastery where relics of the saint are held. In addition to that, you’ll also be able to see how the famous tavernas on the island prepare their specialties.
In spring, Kefalonians decorate their houses with flowers. The home made multicoloured wreaths are hanging outside the houses and even on the windscreens of cars. They are believed to ward off bad luck and the evil eye. Garlic is put into the flowers as a sign of respect to the dead. During the same time the bushes and trees of the wild strawberry (Arbutus undo) are adorned with bright red berries. These berries are used for making jams and liquors. Kantades, a strange kind of melodic traditional songs, are part of the culture on the island as well.
3. Panagia Spiliani
Across Greece it is customary to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary, and many islands have a specific festival in honour of Her. This custom is especially important on the islands of Tinos, Paros and Nisyros, where local festivals are dedicated to the veneration of the Mother of God. These unique festivals take place throughout the year and are based on different events that occur at the church in question.
The Monastery of Panagia Spiliani on the island of Samos is built inside a cave northwest of Pythagorion and houses a small church dedicated to the Virgin. Inside the church is a faded marble icon of the Virgin that has a peculiar history. According to legend the icon was smuggled by some strangers from Patmos in order to be brought back to Samos, but it fell off the boat on its way and broke into five pieces.
Every 14-15th of August there is a big feast in honor of the monastery organized by priests of the church and the nuns. This is the most important celebration of the year for Nisyros and attracts people from all over the Dodecanese. The feast includes plenty of wine and food from the island, including the famous fava beans spread. A lot of significant ecclesiastical heirlooms are also exhibited at the event.
4. August 15
August 15th, or Dekapentavgoustos as it’s commonly known, is a day of feast and worship for many Greeks. It’s the peak of summer, a time to spend with family and friends and eat, dance and enjoy life.
The day commemorates the assumption of the Virgin Mary, also known as the Panaghia. The Panaghia is considered to be the mother of all Greeks, a protector and a source of comfort. Her legends and miracles are widespread. There is a great sense of piety and respect that is felt during this festival, but it’s still a very fun experience.
A popular tradition during this festival is when a priest flings a crucifix into the sea and young men dive in to retrieve it. This is a symbolic act that is seen in countless villages across Greece. It symbolizes the struggle to be free from foreign rule, the desire for freedom and the pride in one’s Greek heritage.
Despite being a religious event, it’s also a big celebration with local foods and beverages served in all villages. On Tinos, for example, a renowned center of Religious Tourism, the church of the Panagia Evangelistria holds a big festival with an atmosphere of joy and jubilation. A must-see are the horse races, known as robolimni, where the locals demonstrate their equestrian skills. The village of Vitsa in Zagori, another place famous for its religious culture, also holds an impressive celebration with continental clarinet music and continental dancing.