The Ferry Festivities – Celebrating Local Culture on the Greek Seas

The Ferry Building’s co-owner, Hudson Pacific Properties, is celebrating 125 years with ongoing events and programming. This weekend, ART BY THE FERRY features visual arts, music, performance art, literature, body-care products and crafts made in Staten Island.

Corfu’s tradition-loving locals have a party on their name day (more important than birthdays). On Kos, citizens recite the Hippocratic Oath.

Corfu Around Easter

Corfu is a gorgeous island – the kind of place where Venetian fortresses meet French style arcades, and green verdant hills overlook crystal-clear waters. It’s also a religiously significant destination, so it’s no surprise that it comes to life during the most important local holiday of the year, Easter.

For 10 days, the entire island builds up to the moment that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the reenactments of the Last Supper and Descent from the Cross to the celebration of the Resurrection, the atmosphere around Easter is one of pure fervor. The streets are alive with religious marches performed by the local philharmonic bands, and you’ll see the epitaphs of each village being carried through the center of the town while being surrounded by people with candles lighting their way up to the church.

On Holy Saturday, there’s a strange tradition where people throw their large clay pots (known as botides) down from their balconies onto the street below. This is a symbol of the breaking of sin, and it’s a very loud and impressive spectacle to witness.

Then, on Easter Sunday, it’s a day of family and feasting. Lambs are skewered and cooked throughout the day in villages all over the island, and families gather together to enjoy this big Greek feast. The next day is Clean Monday, and a lot of locals give up drinking and eating meat for 40 days in honor of Jesus’ fasting and meditation prior to beginning his world-changing ministries.

Greece’s National Holidays

Greece has a variety of national and local holidays that reflect the country’s culture and religious traditions. In addition to the nine mandatory public holidays (New Year’s Day, 6 January, 25 March, Orthodox Easter Monday, May 1, Whit Monday and 15 August), many towns, regions and communities hold their own festivities commemorating historical events or local patron saints.

For example, Apokries, or Carnival season, takes place during the three weeks (known as Profoni, Kreatini and Tyrini) before Orthodox Lent. This period of celebrations includes parades, costume parties and street performances. It is also a great time to see the spectacular fire shows that are so prevalent in Greek cities and villages.

Aside from religious festivals and commemorations, Greeks take pride in their ancestry and enjoy celebrating their identity as Greek. This is reflected in the fact that most of the country’s top archaeological sites and museums are open all year round.

Another important tradition is the Name Day (Iannis/Ianna) on which every Greek celebrates their own personal holiday. This is more significant than a birthday as each person’s name is linked to the saint with whom they share it. On their name day, friends and family visit them bringing gifts and wishing them Khronia Polla (many years). Similarly, on All Saints’ Day, eight weeks after Easter, they celebrate those who have passed away.

Saint’s Days

Whether you participate in them or simply observe, experiencing these festivities gives you an opportunity to delve into Greek culture beyond the usual tourist paths. Moreover, they encapsulate a vibrant living tradition that reflects the heart of Greece’s beliefs and traditions.

Saint’s Days are a time to honor those who played significant roles in the church. Unlike western Christianity’s All Hallows’ Day on October 31st and All Souls Day on November 2nd, the Eastern Orthodox church commemorates all saints collectively on All Saints’ Day (Aghion Panton, Ayios Nektarios).

Dedicated local or patron saints are honored by processions with their names being mentioned during the service at church. The eve of each saint’s name day is celebrated much like a birthday with gifts, food, drinks and dancing into the night. Rural chapels and town churches are the place to be.

On the island of Kos, a renowned physician of antiquity, Hippocrates, is honoured with an annual procession at the ancient temple of Apollo where the locals make flower wreaths for the head doctor. On Clean Monday, the equivalent of Ash Wednesday, meatless picnics are enjoyed. On the weekend closest to September 8, the anniversary of the Battle of Spetses, a military parade is held in the island’s capital. This is followed by a mass in the old Venetian castle of Platamonas.

Greek Orthodox Easter

For Greeks Easter is the biggest holiday of the year and even if you’re not a devout Christian you can still be moved by the ceremonies. It’s a time of family gatherings and reunions and after a long winter and 40 days of fasting it feels like new life is beginning again. The countryside is green and hillsides that would otherwise be parched brown are full of wildflowers.

The church services are held throughout the week but it’s the Holy Saturday service where you can really feel a sense of excitement and anticipation. Church bells ring out a mournful tone all day and flags fly at half-mast as the people prepare to follow the epitaph of Jesus around their local communities in a solemn procession. Then at midnight after a mass that includes reenactments of the Last Supper and Christ’s washing of his disciples feet, the priest will use a ceremonial sword to break the seal of the tomb in Jerusalem and release 33 candles for each church across Greece.

Then everyone carries their lit candle home and draws the cross from Christ’s resurrection above their entrance to their house to protect them. It’s a very moving experience and the best part is that as the candles are lit, one by one, the priest holds up a flame representing the eternal light from Christ’s resurrection above the crowd, and everyone shouts ‘Christos Anesti!’