January events & festivals in Greece

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1. The Feast of Saint Basil

On the first day of the New Year the Greek Orthodox Church commemorates the life and legacy of Saint Basil of Caesarea, also known as St. Basil the Great or Agios Vasilios. That day, Greek Orthodox Christians attend church service. In honor of both the New Year and St. Basil’s day, Greeks bake a cake called “Vasilopita” (directly translated as “Sweet Bread of St. Basil”) which contains a hidden coin inside. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time, by order of age from eldest to youngest. The person who gets the slice with the coin is supposed to have joy and blessings throughout the whole year.


2. The feast of Epiphany

The Holy Epiphany or “Theophany” is one of the most sacred Greek Orthodox celebrations. On January 6, Christians all around Greece, from small villages to large cities, take part in various traditions and ceremonies to celebrate this religious day which is associated with the baptism of Jesus Christ by Saint John the Baptist. The most important ritual is the ‘great blessing of the waters,’ which is performed by a Greek Orthodox priest. The tradition is that a priest throws a Cross into the sea and many faithful young men and boys (the so-called Voutihtades) dive into cold water to retrieve it.

Epiphany Mass in the Monastery of Prophet Elias of Santorini (Credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The person who finds and returns the Cross receives the blessing of the priest. Once the cross has returned, the priest releases a white dove as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The “Holy Epiphany” or “Theophany”  Theophany refers to the manifestation of the three persons of the Holy Trinity at the baptism of Jesus Christ and is therefore called Theophany (from Greek “Θεο-φάνεια”, which means “appearance of God”). The Feast of Epiphany is the third and last holiday of the 12 days of Christmas and officially brings the holiday season to a close.

Epiphany on Naxos island, Greece (Credit: https://cyclades24.gr)