January 1: New Year’s Day (public holiday)
The first day of the year is a public holiday and stores and most cafes and restaurants are closed. Greeks spend it in good company (it’s often a family affair), with big meals and presents, which are traditionally opened on this day rather than at Christmas.
Monday, January 6: Epiphany (public holiday)
Epiphany, also known as Theophany or Ta Fota (the lights), commemorates the baptism of Christ, and is the final celebration of the holiday season after Christmas and New Year’s.
On this day, the Great Sanctification of Water, ceremonies are held by the sea, lakes and rivers all around the country. Priests bless the water by casting a cross into it; young men then dive in and compete to retrieve it. Read more about Epiphany here.
Epiphany is a public holiday, and stores and some cafes and restaurants are closed. In 2020, it falls on a Monday, creating a three-day weekend.
Friday, February 14: Valentine’s Day
While not a public holiday (or traditional in any sense), most Greeks celebrate Valentine’s Day, at least when they’re feeling extra romantic. Restaurants offer special menus, and the window displays of flower shops fill with red roses and teddy bears.
Thursday, February 20th: Tsiknopempti
If you know what you’re doing, you’ll change out of your work clothes and into something casual you don’t mind getting grease on before heading to your evening reservations on Tsiknopempti, which literally translates to “smoky Thursday.”
Serious carnivores (of which there are plenty in Greece) rate this as their favorite holiday. The day falls in the second week of Apokries, known as Kreatini, when the church allows the consumption of meat before the Lenten fast.
Traditionally it is a day when households across the country would grill meat over coals (once a rare indulgence), filling every city street and village square with drool-inducing aromas. While these days the religious aspect of the holiday is less of a priority for most Greeks, the excuse to fire up the barbecue is faithfully honored.
Read more about Tsiknopempti here.
February 9th – March 1st (in 2020): Apokries (Carnival)
Apokries, Greece’s carnival season, takes place during the three weeks (known individually as Profoni, Kreatini and Tyrini) leading up to the beginning of Lent. This period features some of the most colorful and impressive celebrations of the year, including parades, masquerade parties, street performances, flour wars, and, in some places, local fertility-promoting rites with pagan roots. The biggest events and most parties take place on the last weekend (February 29-March 1 in 2020).
Read all about the traditional festivities taking place around the country here.
Monday, March 2nd (in 2020): Clean Monday (public holiday)
Those planning to let go completely during the last festivities of Apokries will be glad to know that the weekend is followed by the perfect opportunity to detox after all the partying – namely Clean Monday, the first day of Lent.
On this day, Greeks traditionally enjoy veggie meals and seafood like squid and octopus (meat, dairy, eggs and bony fish are off the menu for the Lent fast), complete with the obligatory flat, sesame-covered “lagana” bread and taramasalata (fish roe dip). It is also customary to head outside to fly kites – a popular activity among kids and adults alike.
Read more about Clean Monday here.
Clean Monday is a public holiday, and many stores remain closed, but cafes and restaurants stay open as many celebrate the day by going out to eat.
Wednesday, March 25th: Independence Day + Annunciation of the Lord (public holiday)
On this double holiday, celebrating both a historic event (March 25th, 1821, the date of the official declaration of the Greek War of Independence) and a religious one (the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary), Greeks celebrate with parades and a traditional feast of batter-fried cod and garlic dip (bakaliaros skordalia).
March 25th is a public holiday, and most stores remain closed, but cafes and restaurants stay open as many celebrate the day by going out to eat.
April 12th-20th (2020): Easter (public holiday)
The biggest holiday in the Greek Orthodox church, Easter is a big deal. Kids get two weeks off from school, and many adults also take time off to turn the long weekend into a vacation. Religious services take place throughout the Holy Week, but the main events happen on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday (April 17, 18, 19 respectively in 2020). There are many wonderful traditions to be aware of when you visit Greece during these days. Find our “Bluffer’s Guide” to the holiday here.
Easter is the time when many Greeks leave the cities and head to their islands and villages to visit relatives and/or “open” their holiday houses for the season, and it is a wonderful time to spend in the countryside. Find a list of islands to visit at Easter here. If you’re planning to spend this time in Athens, on the other hand, find our helpful guide to Easter in the city here.
Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays, and many stores remain closed especially on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. Cafés and restaurants often stay open to cater to those who prefer to enjoy their Easter meals out, but opening hours can vary to allow staff to attend the main church services. As Good Friday is the day of strictest fasting during Lent, many restaurants are closed on this day, so check ahead if you’re planning to eat out!
Friday, May 1st: Labor Day (public holiday)
In Greece, May Day is recognized not only as Labor Day, but also as a celebration of spring and flowers. While marches take place around the country (mainly in the cities), those of a less political slant focus on the traditions related to the rebirth of nature, which have roots in ancient Greek customs. Picking flowers and making wreaths is a popular activity.
May 1st is a public holiday, and many stores remain closed, but cafes and restaurants stay open as many celebrate the day by going out to eat. This year, May 1st is a Friday, creating a three-day weekend.
Sunday June 7- Saturday June 8th (2020): Pentecost & Monday of the Holy Spirit (public holiday)
Fifty days after Easter Sunday, Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit appearing before the apostles, an event known as the birth of the Christian Church. Services are held, but many Greeks don’t celebrate the day in any particular way.
Pentecost and the following day, known as Monday of the Holy Spirit, are public holidays, creating a three-day weekend perfect for summer’s first island getaway. At seaside locations, most stores and restaurants stay open to cater to the visitors. Church fairs are held from Saturday.
Saturday, August 15th: Dormition of the Mother of God (public holiday)
In the Orthodox Church, a two-week fast leads up to this day, which commemorates the passing of the mother of Christ. Naturally, the fast is followed by a feast, usually enjoyed in the homes of the many Greeks who celebrate their name days on this day (any name variations of Maria, Marios, Panagiotis, Panagiota, Despoina, Kristalia, and others).
This day is considered the peak of summer; most people plan their summer vacations around this day, the big cities are noticeably emptier, and hotel prices go up as a result. Beaches, bars and clubs fill to the breaking point with revelers.
August 15th is a public holiday, and most stores remain closed, but cafes, restaurants, and especially bars stay open as most celebrate the day by going out to eat and/or partying through the night.
Wednesday, October 28th: Ochi Day (public holiday)
Greece’s Independence Day is known as Ochi Day (No Day), referring to Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas’ response to Benito Mussolini on this day in 1940, when the Italian dictator demanded to occupy Greece. Metaxas’ “No” brought Greece into WWII on the side of the Allies. The day is celebrated with military parades.
Ochi Day is a public holiday, and many stores remain closed, but cafes and restaurants stay open as many celebrate the day by going out to eat.
Saturday, October 31st: Halloween
Halloween in Greece? Yes, even though Greece has its own holiday dedicated to costume parties (see “Apokries”), Halloween is becoming increasingly popular in the cities, where many bars and clubs host themed and spooky events.
Tuesday, November 17th: Polytechneio
Not a joyous day at all, but a day commemorating the 1973 student uprising against the military junta, and the tragedy that followed in the early hours on this date, when a tank took down the gate of the Athens Polytechnic (Technical University of Athens) and 24 civilians were killed. Demonstrations are held in cities, and particularly Athens, which often end with small factions of the demonstrators clashing with riot police.
While not officially a public holiday, universities and many schools close on this day. The schools that open do so for special commemorative events.
Friday December 25th – Saturday December 26th: Christmas / Boxing Day (public holidays)
Christmas celebrations in Greece are similar to those in most of the world in many ways; homes, businesses and streets are decked out in fairy lights, Santa entertains children in city squares and malls, and extended store opening hours come into effect to facilitate the requisite gift shopping. On Christmas Day, the streets quiet down, as families get together for big meals at home.
There are also plenty of things that Greeks do on these days that differ from the celebrations in the rest of the world. Find a list of things that makes Greek Christmas unique here.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day are public holidays, and most stores remain closed, but some cafes and restaurants stay open. This year, Christmas Day falls on a Friday, creating a long weekend.
Thursday, December 31st: New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve in Greece usually doesn’t mean a party – it means several parties in a row. Beginning the evening at home, Greeks gather with family to share the last feast of the year, exchange presents, play cards, and cut the New Year’s cake.
After midnight, young people start to make their way for the exits, heading to the next party. Bars and nightclubs only fill with people at around two in the morning, especially in the big cities, and traffic can be difficult. The parties go on until it’s day again, when tradition dictates that those who are still awake head to the restaurants of hotels, for a big, celebratory first breakfast of the year.