Famous for their parties since the dawn of Western Civilisation, Greeks love celebrations! After all, this is a country where everybody celebrates two birthdays per year – one on the day of their birth and the other on their name day, the official day of the saint they’re named after.
In addition, the Greek calendar is chock-full of festivals and celebrations, from key dates on the Greek Orthodox calendar, to days of national importance, and island and region-specific events, as noted on our post about Tilos festivals.
Whether you want to plan your trip to Halki to coincide with a celebration or are curious about an event you’ve witnessed, here’s an overview of some of the best Halki festivals and cultural events.
Celebrations begin on 1 January with the feast of Ayios Vasilis, or Saint Basil, the Greek Santa Claus. Families traditionally cut a vasilopita, sweet bread with a coin baked inside – whoever finds the coin enjoys good luck all year.
Epiphany, celebrated on 6 January, offers a more refreshing start to the year. Waters are blessed and evil spirits banished. Where these celebrations are near water, the priest throws a cross into the water, while young locals dive to retrieve it. The lucky winner is blessed for life!
Carnival or Apokries is a fun and colourful time to visit Greece. This three-week period is the run-up to Lent – the words ‘carnival’ and ‘apokries’ mean ‘goodbye to meat’ in Latin and Greek respectively.
This period is marked by street parties and parades, with particular emphasis on Tsiknopemptee, a Thursday when Greek families gather in tavernas to eat grilled meat. Celebrations culminate on Clean Monday, or Kathara Deftera, when kites are flown and families gather to eat vegetable and seafood dishes.
Dates vary each year depending on when Easter falls.
Greek Independence Day
On 25 March, Greeks celebrate Independence Day, the date when Greece initiated the Revolutionary War against the occupying Turks in 1821. Expect military and school parades across the country, while fried cod is traditionally eaten with skordalia (garlic spread).
Orthodox Easter and Holy Week
Spring is a wonderful time to be in Greece, particularly if you want to take advantage of the many wonderful walking routes before the scorching summer sun kicks in! It also offers a wonderful opportunity to experience Orthodox Easter, the biggest celebration in the Greek calendar.
Festivities begin in earnest on Holy Thursday when Easter bread and cookies are baked and eggs are dyed red to symbolise the blood of Christ. Good Friday is a day of mourning in honour of the death of Christ, while the evening sees a solemn candlelit procession.
Saturday night is the most important religious day of the year with the Resurrection of Christ celebrated at midnight after a long mass. Shortly before midnight all lights in the church are extinguished, leaving only the Eternal Flame burning. At midnight, the priest proclaims Christos Anesti (Christ is risen) and lights the lambada (traditional candle) of the closest person with the Eternal Flame. This is passed from person to person until everybody’s candles are lit. Then church bells ring and fireworks and firecrackers explode. It’s one loud night!
With ears ringing, families return home to break their fast with a traditional meat broth, before the main feasting on Easter Sunday where an entire spit-roasted lamb or goat takes centre stage.
Orthodox Easter usually falls about a week after Catholic Easter, so check your dates before booking.
Feast of St. George (Ayios Yioryios)
One of the most important saints days is that of Saint George, patron saint of shepherds. This usually takes place on 23 April, though if it clashes with Holy Week it’s moved to the first Monday after Easter.
On Halki, the feast is celebrated at a small chapel dedicated to Ayios Yiorgos on the uninhabited islet of Alimia.
Halki Festivals in August
August is another fun-filled month for Halki festivals. The Day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Panagia, is celebrated throughout the country on 15 August, commemorating Mary’s ascent to heaven. On Halki, celebrations take place at the Church of Panagia in Horio.
On 28 and 29 August, the Monastery of St John (Agios Ioannis Alargas) is a hive of activity celebrating the patron saint of sponge fishermen and of Halki. Emigrants return to their island from across the world to join in the feasting and dancing.
Ohi (No) Day
Another day of national pride, Ohi Day celebrates the Greeks saying ‘No’ to the Italians who asked for their surrender during World War II. Expect more military and school parades and general festivities.
The patron saint of sailors is an important day for Halki thanks to her connections to the sea. Saint Nikolaos or Ayios Nikolaos, is celebrated on 6 December, with festivities taking place at the church in Emborio.
The Christmas holiday period lasts from Christmas Eve when children traditionally sing carols, through to the Epiphany on 6 January. Although Easter is the main religious event in Greece, Christmas is a wonderful family time with lots of sweet treats such as melomakarona enjoyed and presents exchanged at New Year’s in honour of Saint Basil.
Experience Halki Festivals with Nissia Holidays
These are the main Halki festivals and cultural events, but there are plenty of saints days celebrated throughout the season – just ask us if you’d to experience a traditional Greek celebration in Halki during your holiday.
For more information or to book your holiday in Halki, contact Nissia Holidays on 01455 289421 or email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.