May Events & Festivals in Greece

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International Labor Day (“Protomagia”)

May 1 is International Labour Day and is one of the few non-religious public holidays in Greece. It is called “Protomagia” (literally meaning the first day of May) and people traditionally go to the countryside to appreciate nature, have picnicks and gather wildflowers which they then use to make a wreath called “stefani”.

The wreath is made in a circle, which is considered to protect against malicious forces and is always made with colourful flowers, handpicked and knitted together. It is placed on the front door of the house to welcome the power and beauty of nature and symbolises rebirth. The wreath remains there until the feast of St. Ioannis Klidonas, on June 24. On that night, the flower wreaths are set alight in bonfires. People leap over the flames consuming the flower wreaths.

Maios (Latin Maius), the month of May, took its name from the goddess Maia (Gr Μαία, the nurse), a Greek and Roman goddess of fertility. Protomagia celebrates the final victory of the summer against winter as the victory of life against death.

May Events Festivals Greece
The May Day wreath is hung on entrances, doors, and balconies

The custom of “Protomagia” has its roots in ancient Greece. On this day it is said that Demeter, the goddess of harvest and agriculture, reunites with her daughter Persephone, who emerges from the underworld and comes to earth, marking the reawakening of nature and the beginning of summer.

There is also a relation to Anthesteria, the first ancient Greek flower festival held in honor of god of wine Dionysus. ‘Anthesteria’ derive from the Greek word anthos (flower), relating to their springtime setting.

The improving weather and the blooming landscapes make it a gorgeous month for traveling to Greece. Each region celebrates this day slightly differently, but the message of the rebirth of nature is consistent. If you are planning to move about a major city, be advised that workers’ marches may disrupt traffic. As it is a national holiday, most monuments, museums, and attractions, as well as some shops, will be closed with the exception – of course – of cafes, restaurants and tavernas.


Feast of St. Constantine & St. Helen

The first Orthodox emperor, St. Constantine, and his mother, St. Helen, are honored, most interestingly, by “anastenaria” (a traditional barefoot fire-walking ritual with ecstatic dance) performed on May 21 in some villages in Northern Greece: Ayia Eleni, Kerkini (Serres), Langada (Thessaloniki), Maurolefki (Drama) and Meliki (Imathia). The “Anastenarides” (fire walkers) hold that the origin of the ritual lies in a fire which took place at Kosti, near the Black Sea in the Middle Ages which set ablaze the church of Saint Constantine. When the villagers heard the voices of the burning saints calling to them from inside of the church they rushed in to rescue the icons emerging from the fire unharmed thanks to the protection of the saints. The word “anastenaria” derives from the Greek “anastasi,” meaning resurrection. The Anastenaria rituals usually attract dozens of people from the surrounding areas.