The 15th of August (Assumption of the Virgin Mary) is one of the most important days in the Greek religious calendar and a public holiday in Greece. So, what is it, why do we celebrate it and how can you get involved if you happen to be in Greece in August?!

1 This Holiday Celebrates the Assumption Of The Virgin Mary

In Greek Orthodox religion it is believed that upon her death Mary, the mother of Jesus, was miraculously taken up to heaven by God. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is a day of celebration in Greece for the reunion of mother and her son rather than one of mourning and loss.

2 It Is A Public Holiday In Greece

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which falls on the 15th of August is a public holiday. This Christian feast day is one of the most important in Greece and is just as important as Christmas and Easter. You will find that most shops are shut although some touristic places may remain open. Locals use this time to join in with the festivities and connect with friends and family.

3 This Holiday Has Many Names

A little on etymology: the word “assumption” comes from the Latin “assumptio” which means “a taking up” or “receiving” which refers to the Virgin Mary being taken up to heaven. While this national holiday is most commonly known as the Assumption of the Virgin Mary it has many other names. It may be referred to as ‘dekapentavgoustos’ in Greek which literally translates to August 15.

It is also referred to as the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, or ‘kimisis’ of the Virgin Mary. Dormition (a religious euphemism for death) refers to a peaceful death resembling one falling asleep. You might also hear the Virgin Mary referred to as Panagia in Greek. You will no doubt see many churches around Greece called Panagia as they are dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

4 August 15th Is One Of The Most Celebrated Name Days

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is one of the most celebrated holidays in Greece and it is also one of the most celebrated name days. Greece has a very high percentage of Orthodox Christians (around 90%). So, following religious tradition, many children are baptised at a young age and named after a saint. This means, as well as a birthday, people in Greece also have a name day which is the day the saint they were named after is celebrated by the church. Families will gather to celebrate with lots of food and good music. Some name days celebrated on this day are obviously Mary and Maria but also Panayiotis and Despina.

5 It Coincides With Greek Vacation Time

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is one of the busiest times in Greece. Occurring in the peak of summer this holiday is also referred to as little Easter. At this time of year, most Greeks pack up and head to the Greek islands for a holiday. 

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© Definitely Greece

6 You Don’t Have To Be Greek To Join The Celebration

One of the most rewarding things to do while travelling is to immerse yourself in culture, to experience the real Greece. The Greek people are often welcoming and hospitable when it comes to people interested in learning about their way of life. If you are in Greece on the 15th of August, you should attend a “panigiri” traditional festival to experience some of the customs and old traditions yourself.

7 A Two Week Fast Occurs

Proceeding the Assumption of the Virgin Mary a two week fast occurs, starting on the 1st of August and lasting until the 14th. Many Greeks will abstain from eating meat as well as foods such as dairy, eggs, wine and even olive oil.

8 Icons

As part of the celebrations of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, each town will adorn their icon of the Virgin (usually a devotional figure or painting) with decorations and fresh flowers. The icon is then taken around the village so people can pay their respects or touch the icon. 

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9 Pilgrimage To Tinos

On August 15th every region pays tribute to the Virgin Mary. While different churches have their own unique way of celebrating it, regardless of location people participate en masse. The island of Tinos has a very special association with the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The Miraculous Icon of the Virgin Mary was found on this Greek island and is one of the most important in Greece. Because of it, this island is a place of religious pilgrimage.

The story goes back 200 years when St. Pelagia, a nun from the convent of Kechrovounion, dreamt of the Virgin Mary and how she had suffered underground for many years. Later excavations found the icon of the Virgin Mary on January 30, 1823.

The Church of Panayia Evangelistria in Tinos is home to this famous icon and is a must see whether you are religious or not. Many believe that the icon has healing powers so the church is frequented by many worshippers, some who have travelled great distances. If you do visit remember to dress respectfully and cover your shoulders.

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10 Celebrations In Paros

There are many things to do on the island of Paros, but if you are visiting in August you will do doubt be swept up by the celebrations of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. This is another island that has a strong association with this holiday. There is a procession of the Epitaph of the Virgin Mary through the capital Parikia, fireworks are let off from the fishing boats and there is music, good food and good company. Panagia Ekatontapiliani Church, a historic Byzantine church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is flooded with those wishing to pay their respects.
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