May Events & Festivals in Greece

619 views

International Labor Day (May 1)

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.

Athens Street Food Festival

The festival returns for its 7th year at the old OSY Train Depot in Gazi for three extended weekends (Saturday to Monday) on 10-12, 17-19 and 24-26 May 2024. More than 100,000 foodies attend the biggest food festival in Greece each year. Extraordinary tastes, beloved Greek delicacies (souvlaki, perfectly wrapped gyros, crispy spanakopita, syrupy loukoumades) and recipes from every part of the world.


This is Athens – City Festival (01/05/24 – 02/06/24)

The This is Athens – City Festival was created by the City of Athens to celebrate spring in the Greek capital. Beginning with the annual picnic in the park at Plato’s Academy on May 1, Athenians and visitors will discover Athens in bloom at more than 250 events including street parties, concerts, museum nights, guided walking tours, sporting events, experiences with food and wine, as well as events inspired by the Easter holiday.

Thessaloniki International Book Fair (16-19/05/2024)

Unique in its category in Greece, TBF was first launched in May 2004 with the aim of putting Greece on the map of International Book Fairs. It soon became a hub for cultural exchanges and trade between Europe, the Balkans, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. Today it is one of the most important cultural institutions in the country with international recognition.

Easter (May 5, 2024)

Easter (or Pascha) is the most sacred and important feast of the Greek Orthodox Church. It starts 7 weeks before Easter Sunday and comes to its peak the Holy Week (known as Megali Evdomada) when Services are held at least once a day in churches all over Greece, from the islands to the mainland.

During the Holy Week, churches are specially decorated. Chandeliers and icon screens are dressed in black and purple ribbons. From Holy Monday to Holy Wednesday, there are no typical traditions that take place outside of the church. On Holy Thursday, all churches include a symbolic representation of the crucifixion and the reading of the twelve gospels. Families dye eggs red which symbolizes the blood of Christ poured for salvation. The eggs are used for decorations and cracked against each other in a traditional game called “tsougrisma”. This is the day that also the Easter bread, called “tsoureki” (soft, semi-sweet brioche bread) is baked and will likely have a red Easter egg baked right in its center. These will be placed on the Easter table to be eaten after Holy Saturday.

Red eggs and Easter bread “tsoureki” (Credit: ManosHacker, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Good Friday is the most sacred day of Holy Week. Church bells throughout Greece ring mournfully and all the flags in the country are lowered to half-mast. Epitaphios (a wooden canopied bier representing the tomb of Christ) is covered with fresh spring flowers. In the evening the ceremonial Epitaphios Procession takes place, led by the parish priests and followed by the faithful who chant psalms and hold lit candles.

Greek Orthodox Easter
Greek Orthodox Easter in Greece (Credit: Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The culmination of the Holy Week is on Good Saturday. Just before midnight, the church goes completely dark. After midnight the priest is chanting “Christ is Risen” (Christos Anesti, in Greek) and passes the Holy Fire from which all the faithful light their Easter candles (or “lambades” in Greek). The person receiving the flame responds: “Alithos Anesti” or “Verily He is Risen”. Fireworks begin to light up the sky.

The midnight Anastasi (Resurrection) Mass on Holy Saturday, the most sacred event in the Orthodox calendar, at the Athens Cathedral (Credit: PCMVideo.WebTV.gr)

After church, it is custom to carry the Holy Fire back home and make a black cross at the doorstep with the flame to bless the house. The first meal eaten is usually the traditional Easter soup called “magiritsa” (made with chopped offal and herbs).

On Easter Sunday, families celebrate with a meal that includes roasted lamb, normally seasoned and prepared on a spit, or “souvla”. According to the Apostle John, Jesus is the Lamb of God. He died on the Cross as a sacrifice for our sins. Eating lamb honors this.

Lamb Roast on Easter Sunday in Greece (Credit: Infrogmation, New Orleans, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

Special Easter festivities take place all over Greece. Islands like Patmos, Chios and Corfu are very famous for their Easter celebrations. Rouketopolemos (Rocketwar) is a local traditional event held in the town of Vrontados on Chios. Thousands of home-made rockets are fired on that day. Leonidio in Peloponnese also offers a great spectacle. If you are in Athens, an important symbolic tradition is the arrival and distribution of the Holy Fire, brought in by airplane from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the Church of Aghioi Anargyroi in Plaka. From there the Holy Fire is distributed to churches all over Attica and the rest of Greece.


Feast of St. Constantine & St. Helen (May 21)

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.


Spetsathlon (17-19/05/2024)

Taking place in Spetses island with a variety of race options, including individual running, cycling and open-water swimming and a popular triathlon, Spetsathlon, has become a landmark institution for the local community and sports enthusiasts.