Greeks love traditions almost as much as they do a good party. While the years in the pandemic taught us to adjust to smaller gatherings and safe protocols, the urge to once again mark the many holidays scattered throughout the year is also strong. Some public holidays happen to fall on Fridays or Mondays, creating opportunities for long weekend getaways for the Greeks. Find out what they’re celebrating, or commemorating, and how to join the fun, here:
Sunday, January 1st
New Year’s Day (public holiday)
The first day of the year is a public holiday, and stores and most cafés and restaurants are closed. Greeks usually spend it at home (it’s often a family affair), enjoying big meals. Presents are traditionally exchanged on this day rather than at Christmas.
Friday, January 6th
Epiphany (public holiday, long weekend)
In the Orthodox Church, Epiphany, also known as Theophany or Ta Fota (the lights), commemorates the baptism of Christ; it is the final celebration in the Christmas holiday season.
On this day, ceremonies for the Blessing of the Waters are held alongside lakes, rivers and the seashore all over Greece. At all of these locations, priests bless the water by casting a cross into it; young men (and, more recently, women) dive in and compete to retrieve it. Epiphany is a public holiday, and stores and some cafés and restaurants are closed.
Read more about Epiphany here.
Tuesday, February 14th
While it’s not a public holiday (or traditionally Greek in any sense), St Valentine’s Day is celebrated by most of the nation’s romantic types. Restaurants offer special menus, and the window displays of flower shops are dominated by red roses and teddy bears. Note: reservations are a very good idea if you’re planning on dining out on this evening.*
Sunday, February 5th – Sunday, February 26th
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, costume 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. This year, that’s February 25th and 26th.
Previously during the Covid-19 pandemic, carnival celebrations have been cancelled. Make sure you stay up-to-date on developments ahead of your trip, follow health protocols.
Read all about the traditional festivities taking place around the country here.
Thursday, February 16th
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, the literal translation of which is “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, when the church allows the consumption of meat prior to the Lenten fast.
Traditionally, this was a day when households across the country would grill meat (once a rare indulgence) over coals, filling every city street and village square with drool-inducing aromas. While the religious aspect of the holiday is less of a priority for most Greeks these days, the chance to fire up the barbecue is faithfully honored.
Read more about Tsiknopempti here.
Monday, February 27th
Clean Monday (public holiday, long weekend)
Those planning to let go completely during Apokries will be glad to know that the carnival period is followed by the perfect opportunity to detox after all that partying – namely Clean Monday, the first day of Lent.
On this day, Greeks traditionally enjoy vegetarian dishes and some seafood, including squid and octopus (meat, dairy products, eggs and fish are off the menu for the Lent fast), all accompanied by the obligatory flat, sesame-covered “lagana” bread and fish roe dip (taramasalata). It’s also customary to head outside to fly kites – a popular activity among kids and adults alike.
Clean Monday is a public holiday, and many stores remain closed, but cafés and restaurants stay open, as many celebrate the day by going out to eat.*
Read more about Clean Monday here.
Saturday, March 25th
Independence Day and The 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 of the Lord, when Gabriel informed Mary that she would bear the Son of God), 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 cafés and restaurants stay open as many celebrate the day by going out to eat.*
Monday, April 10th – Monday, April 17th
Easter days (some public holidays, long weekend)
The most important holiday on the Greek Orthodox church calendar, Easter is a big deal. Kids get two weeks off from school, and many adults also take time off work to turn the long weekend into a longer vacation. Religious services take place throughout the Holy Week, but the main events happen on Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday (April 14, 15, and 16 respectively in 2023). There are many wonderful traditions to be aware of if you’re visiting Greece during these days. Find our “Bluffer’s Guide” to the holiday here.
Easter is 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’s a wonderful time to spend in the countryside or even further afield. (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!*
Monday, May 1st
Labor Day (public holiday, long weekend)
In Greece, May Day is recognized not only as Labor Day, but also as a celebration of spring. While marches take place around the country (mainly in the cities), those of a less political slant focus on those 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 cafés and restaurants stay open as many celebrate the day by going out to eat.*
Sunday, June 4th – Monday, June 5th
Pentecost & Monday of the Holy Spirit (public holiday, long weekend)
Forty-nine days after Easter Sunday, Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit appearing before the apostles, an event that marked the birth of the Christian Church. Religious 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 a pre-summer getaway. At seaside locations and other tourist spots, most stores and restaurants stay open to cater to the visitors.* Church fairs are often held from Saturday onward.
Tuesday, August 15th
Ascension of the Virgin Mary (public holiday)
In the Orthodox Church, a two-week fast leads up to this day, which commemorates the passing of the Virgin Mary. Naturally, the fast is followed by a feast, which guests usually enjoy in the homes of the many Greeks who celebrate their name days on this day (including those married women named Maria, Maro, Marousa and Despoina, all women named Kristalia; and a number of both men and women with other names – find out more in our Greek name day calendar here).
This day is considered the peak of summer; many 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 are often filled to breaking point.
August 15th is a public holiday, and most stores remain closed, but cafés, restaurants and bars stay open, as most people celebrate the day by going out to eat and/or partying through the night.*
Saturday, October 28th
Ochi Day (public holiday)
October 28th is known as Ochi (“No”) Day, referring to Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas’ response to Benito Mussolini on this date in 1940, when the Italian dictator demanded his troops be allowed free movement into Greece. Metaxas’ firm refusal 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 cafés and restaurants stay open as many celebrate the day by going out to eat.*
You can read all about Ochi Day here.
Tuesday, October 31st
Halloween in Greece? Yes, even though Greece has its own holiday period dedicated to costume parties (see “Apokries”), Halloween is becoming increasingly popular in the cities, where many bars and clubs host themed celebrations and spooky events.*
Friday, November 17th
Polytechneio (long weekend for some)
Not a joyous day at all, this date commemorates the 1973 student uprising against the military junta, and the tragedy that followed in the early hours of the morning of November 17th, when a tank took down the gate of the National Technical University of Athens and 24 civilians were killed. Demonstrations are held in most cities, and particularly in Athens, and 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, which in 2023 will create a long weekend. The schools that open do so for special commemorative events.
Monday, December 25th – Tuesday, December 26th
Christmas / Boxing Day (public holidays, long weekend)
Christmas celebrations in Greece are similar to those elsewhere in many ways; homes, businesses and streets are decked out in Christmas 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 are quieter, 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 (the day that follows December 25th) are public holidays, and most stores remain closed, but some cafes and restaurants stay open. This year, Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, so Boxing Day creates a long weekend.
Sunday, 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, play cards, and cut the special New Year’s cake.
After midnight, the younger generation starts to make their way for the exits, heading to the next party. Bars and nightclubs only hit their stride at around two in the morning, especially in the big cities, and traffic can be difficult. The parties go on until it’s daylight again, when tradition dictates that those who are still awake head to a hotel restaurant for an indulgent celebratory first breakfast of the year.*
N.B.: Villages and towns often hold their own special events during the year. Depending on where you’re staying, you might be lucky enough to catch a local festivity during your time in Greece. You should always ask around to see if there are any celebrations coming up in your area.
*Note that at the time of publication of this article, no proof of vaccination against Covid-19 is requested at restaurants or other public indoor and outdoor venues, but be aware of possible new measures being declared in response to the pandemic.