Feasts and festivals are an important part of Greek life and Kefalonia is richly blessed with festivals, to such an extent that, during July and August, there seems to be at least one every day somewhere on the island. As and when we get to know of them the news gets posted in the Kefalonia news, here's a list of the main festivals that are celebrated every year:
January - Agios Vassillis
Saint Vasillis is the traditional Greek ‘Father Christmas’ and Greek 'Christmas' is traditionally celebrated on 01 January, although not to the extent Christmas is celebrated in the UK. It is still largely a family and religious occasion although a Westernised, commercial version of Christmas, celebrated on 25 December, is fast making inroads into the Greek way of life.
| 06 January - Theofania
The Blessing of the Waters, when the hob-goblins are banished back to the underworld. Celebrated widely at harbours and lakes throughout Greece and the Greek world, e.g. at Argostoli and Lixouri on Kefalonia. The priest throws a cross in to the water and the young men of the village dive to retrieve it.
Theofania celebrations at Katelios, photo by JollyRoger
| 25 March - Independence Day
Celebrates the day Greece finally became independent of the Ottoman Empire.
Apokreas (or apokries) is an ancient tradition, probably originally celebrating Dionysos, god of wine and festivities. The name derives from the Greek aποχή από το κρέας (abstinence from meat), shortened to apo kreas or apokries. Now often called karnavali (in Latin, carne = meat, vale = goodbye), it starts on Triodion and lasts for the three weeks immediately before Kathera Devtera (Clean Monday), the start of Sarakosti (Lent).
The second week of apokreas is meat week, the last week meat can be eaten (by Orthodox Christians) until the end of Sarakosti at midnight on Easter Saturday and is particularly celebrated on Tsiknopempti (bbq Thursday), when, traditionally, families grilled meat on charcoals and poured fat over it to permeate the smell of roasting meat through the village (nowadays a lot of people, especially in the cities, go to a taverna to celebrate).
third week of apokreas is cheese week, as eating meat is a no-no after
the first Monday of this week, which culminates with Tyrofagis (cheese
eating Sunday), the day when the apokreas (karnavali) celebrations
culminate and the day before Kathara Devtera, when people recover from
the celebrations by going out into the countryside or on to the beaches
and fly kites.
During apokreas people, young and old, take part in maskara, or maskerathes – dressing up in (sometimes ‘outrageous’) costumes to visit friends and tavernas and the final apokreas processions are a time for the people to topically lampoon the media-worthy (e.g. politicians) and current events.
|Variable - Paska / Easter
Sarakosti (Lent) is the main one of the four traditional times for fasting and from the start of cheese week Orthodox Christians refrain from eating meat and sea food with a spine (backbone), from the end of cheese week animal products (milk, cheese, eggs) are also avoided and consumption of olive oil and alcohol is reduced.
At the start of Sarakosti, on Kathara Devtera, traditionally children make a paper figure with seven legs known as Kyra Sarakosti (Lady Lent), each week one leg is removed to mark the countdown to Paska (Easter).
On Easter Thursday κόκκινα αυγά (red eggs) are prepared by boiling eggs in a dye (traditionally) made from yellow onion skins and (balsamic) vinegar. Like apokreas, this has a long history: ancient civilisations regarded the egg as a symbol of life and, after the Ascension of Christ, Mary Magdalene offered the Emporer Tiberius a red egg while announcing "Christ is risen". Later, families would place the first dyed egg among their icons to ward off evil the coming year and lambs were ‘annointed’ with the surplus red dye to protect them. Also on Easter Thursday tsoureki is baked, a braided or twisted sweet bread decorated with red eggs.
Easter Friday is a day of mourning, not for working. Women and children take flowers to the church to decorate the Epitaphio and simple foods such as tahinosoupa or bean soup are consumed.
On Easter Sunday a gastronomic marathon takes place. Mayiritsa soup is prepared on Megali Sabbato from the offal and intestines of the Sunday lamb feast, put on a low heat before church and consumed when people return from church with their ‘labatha’, or Easter candle, the smoke from which is used to the sign of the cross above the front door of the home. Once home the Easter celebrations start with the breaking of the fast, when the mayiritsa, tsoureki and red eggs are consumed – but before the eggs are eaten τσούγκρισμα (tsougrisma) is played: one person holds their egg pointy end up, another person hits it with the pointy end of their egg. If the egg doesn’t crack, the roles are reversed. And so on, until only one person has an unbroken egg. Lots of red eggs tend to be made as a re-match is played at the Easter feast later in the day – which can start early to get the charcoals going - and end late, as Easter is enthusiastically celebrated throughout Greece and the Greek world. The customary greeting is "Christos anesti" (Christ is risen!) and the response "Alithos anesti" (Truly, He is risen), as Easter, not Christmas, is the most important event in the Greek year.
Orthodox Church uses a different calendar to the western Churches so
the date of Greek Easter doesn’t usually coincide with Easter in the
UK, although some years it does:
|01 May - Festival of the Flowers
/ May Day
In the morning wild flowers are gathered and woven into wreaths, then hung above the front door until the following year to bring good fortune.
In some towns and villages, e.g. Poros, flower festivals are held where locally-made wreaths are displayed, usually with a small prize for the best ones.
August - Assumption & ‘Festival of the Snakes’
The Assumption celebrates the Virgin Mary. On Kefalonia the Festival of the Snakes, in Markopoulo, is a very big celebration attracting visitors from around the world. The main celebration is on the evening of 14 August, the religious ceremony on 15 August. A similar festival is held at the same time in the village of Arginia.
Queuing to see the snakes at the Markopoulo festival, a very big celebration on Kefalonia
|16 August - Agios Gerasimos
Massively popular with a huge celebration at the Monastery of Ag. Gerasimos on the afternoon and evening of 15 August and the morning of 16 August.
20 October - Agios Gerasimos
Second festival of Gerasimos, patron saint of Kefalonia.
Curing the infirm at the festival of Agios Gerasimos,
as shown in the film Captain Corelli's Mandolin
October - Okhi Day
The day General Ioannis Metaxas, Ithaka-born Prime Minister of Greece, said ‘No’ to Mussolini’s plan to overrun Greece. The subsequent Italian invasion was repulsed by the small Greek army - the first defeat inflicted upon the fascist during WWII.
General Ioannis Metaxas
December - Kristouyenna
Christmas Day, very much a family occasion.
In Greek tradition a boat, not a tree, is decorated at Christmas