If you are looking for the liveliest time to be in Greece, Dekapentavgoustos (August 15th) should be on top of your list.
Marking the Assumption of the Virgin Mary — one of the largest religious celebrations in the country— this period also hosts some of the greatest Panigiria (festivals).
Greeks from Athens, Thessaloniki and all the main cities travel to their island homes and villages to mark this day of non-stop celebration. Every region has its traditions but overall, the day is held in honour of Panagia- who is cherished and respected and asked to perform miracles on people of all ages.
On this day, each town’s icon of the Virgin is often adorned with flowers and ribbons and carried around the island or village so that the faithful may touch it. The formal religious ceremony is held during the day, with mass and prayers in the morning and the evening focus shifts to food, wine, song and dance.
Panigiria is set in town squares or next to a celebrating church, with each festivity including tables of guests who partake in the local revelry. Each village serves up their local wine and delicacies to the sounds of live bands, with most locals up and dancing from when they arrive.
The essence of this celebration is that “all are welcome” and treated like family- participating body and soul in the commemoration.
What is 100 per cent certain is that wherever you are in Greece on this national holiday- be it an island, village, city or remote town- there will be a Panigiri somewhere nearby. We look at some of the best places to be in Greece for Dekapentavgoustos.
In Siatista, in the northern Greek region of Kozani, the local men ride their adorned horses up to the Monastery of the Koimissis tis Theotokou (Dormition of the Virgin). The horsemen train their animals for weeks before this event, and on the eve of the feast, the town gathers groups of horsemen, who lure local people and guests to the feast. On the day of the Assumption, the riders start in the morning to worship the image of the Virgin Mary Monastery in Mikrokastro. Afterwards, the groups of riders come with their horses into Siatista to the square of hora and put on a display of their skills in the town’s main square. The celebrations continue until early morning.
Preserving their traditions, the Pontians of Soumela in Veria don full costumes on their annual pilgrimage to Panagia Soumela Monastery on August 15.
Thousands of believers from all over Greece and abroad flock each year to attend the events in Panagia Soumela, the historic church on the slopes of Vermion, near the village Kastania.
The church was built in 1951 by refugees from Pontos in memory of the historical monastery, the ruins of which are located on Mount Mela, near Trabzon in the Black Sea. Here exists the miraculous image of Panagia, crafted by Evangelist Luke. On Assumption Day, the procession of the holy icon of the Virgin Mary is followed by many believers.
On top of this great festival of Christendom, Pontian bands from Macedonia offer unique moments with traditional tunes and a long-lasting celebration.
Zagoria is famous for its Dekapentavgoustos feasts, and in villages such as Vitsa and Tsepelovo, the commemoration of the Assumption lasts three days and features an abundance of traditional cuisine with a serving of continental dances. The third and last day is celebrated with non- stop local Epirot musicians and dances.
Panagia Ekatontapyliani is one of the most worshipped churches in the Aegean and is located in the capital of Paros. Believers from all over Greece gather here in mid-August to take part in the festivities.
After the procession of the epitaph begins the great festival of the people, partying until the early hours, with traditional music and local wine and delicacies. In the port of Naoussa, boats approach the pier with lit torches and reveal the arrival of pirates who start the festival with traditional island dances.
On August 15, most of Syros’ islanders gather at the island’s numerous ports, hopping on the fishermen's boats for a free ride at sea. All they have to do in exchange is to help set off all the fireworks rocketing from these boats and lighting the sky throughout the process.
As it’s a religious festival, one of the boats carries a big icon of Panagia. That is when the party begins. The fishermen drive their boats back to the ports to drop off the passengers, who taste some of the delicious “kakavia” – fisherman's soup made by the locals – and some free local drinks. The night, of course, ends with plenty of live music and dancing.
This special island has been linked with religious festivities for decades, with the Church of Panagia Evangelistria on Tinos’ main port drawing thousands of pilgrims from around the world each year.
On August 15, Tinos commemorates the sinking of the warship Elli in 1940 by Italian torpedoes off the island’s coast, an event that effectively brought Greece into the Second World War. Assumption Day is considered the best day to visit this island. Each year visitors start a long journey to Tinos, pay a visit to the church, and experience some of the extraordinary blessings and celebrations.
Chania is located in Crete- the largest of the Greek islands, and the locals celebrate Assumption Day in their Cretan way, with certain villages offering free food and wine and non-stop Cretan music all day. Expect to hear lots of Mandinades (Cretan folklore music) and celebratory gunshots, which create a very festive atmosphere and dynamic vibe.
Ikaria boasts authentic local celebrations of the Virgin Mary’s day in Greece, attracting hundreds of travellers who enjoy more of a traditional festival. It allows international guests to mingle with the locals, surrounded by stunning village surroundings, traditional food, live music, non-stop dancing, and plenty of local wine.
Dekapentavgousots in Serifos is where young men get into fist fights to win the attention of young women. According to old wives' tales, the man who comes out triumphant and gets to dance with his girl under the old olive tree is going to be next to wed. Today this custom is performed just for fun but the festival is still one of the most important dates on the island's calendar- as most inhabitants come back every year to catch up and dance for three days straight.