Rhodians certainly know how to celebrate. They party with communal verve and style whether it’s a religious holiday, the anniversaries of legendary dates or contemporary cultural events. The key ingredients are usually a good selection of friends and loved ones along with great food, music, dancing, creative ideas, fireworks and a deep sense of honouring the local culture in earnest. Here we list some of the most notable panigiria (religious festivals), cultural and other events marked on the calendar.
RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS (Panigiria)
In addition to major celebrations such as Easter and Christmas, each village celebrates the Saint whom the local church is named after (Panayiria as they are called in Greek) . The celebrations begin with a church service and are followed by a festival with live Greek music and traditional dancing, lots of traditional foods and plenty of ‘souma’ and local wine. Visitors are welcomed with open arms. The festivals take place on their squares or in the churches’ courtyards
Don’t miss the opportunity to join in and celebrate with traditional food and song:
1st JANUARY: New Years Day or Proto Chronia. Traditionally a time to exchange presents. A special cake or Vassilopita is baked containing a coin. Whoever receives the coin is due a year of good luck.
EPIPHANY: On 6 January, youths gather at the ports of the traditional villages of the island, and dive into the frozen Aegean water to get the cross (Stavro). Epiphany is celebrated with fanfare and ceremony.
GOOD FRIDAY: (Megali Paraskeví) is probably the saddest day of the year for all Orthodox Christians. On the evening of Good Friday, a symbolic coffin (Jesus) which is decorated with flowers, is paraded through the church’s parish. One of the most iconic walks on Rhodes is that in the Medieval Town, at the church of Agios Fanourios. In the evening the bells toll lamenting the death of Christ. The air is filled by the scent of Livani (frankincense) and the fragrance of the spring flowers that cover the Epitaphios.
HOLY SATURDAY – “Megalo Savato”. An experience not to be missed is the Epitaph Procession of the historic monastery of St. Fanourios that takes place in the narrow streets of the Medieval Town. At the Church of Annunciation in Mandraki the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated with impressive fireworks, while in the monasteries and the villages of the mainland, the celebrations have a more traditional atmosphere. Candles are lit after midnight from the ‘one true flame’, symbolising Jesus’ resurrection. Candles are then carried back through the streets where they are used to mark a burnt cross above the front door to ward off evil spirits. People greet each other with the phrase “Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen), to which the reply “Alithos Anesti” is given. The Lenten feast is then broken with dyed red eggs and the special Easter Soup of “Magiritsa” traditionally made from lamb offal. Surprisingly this offal and lettuce soup actually tastes quite good and you should, given the opportunity, at least give it a try.
EASTER SUNDAY or “Kyriaki tou Pascha”. PARTY time! Traditionally a whole lamb or goat is roasted on a spit over an open fire. The day is dedicated to feasting, drinking and dancing.
23 APRIL is the feast of Agios Georgios in Pastida celebrated in true Rhodian style with food, wine, song and dance.
29 JUNE is the festival of Saint Paul in the small bay below Lindos. A joyous occasion with wine, song and much celebration.
6 JULY is the celebration of Agia (Saint) Kyriaki in Kalathos, and in typical style is celebrated with much gusto and enthusiasm.
17 JULY: Festive celebrations (panigiris) of Saint Marina are held in the villages of Paradisi, Apolakkia & Koskinou.
27 July: The celebration of St. Panteleimon, one of the most colourful festivals of the island, takes place at the mountain village of Sianna.
30 JULY: The panigiri of St. Silas (Soulas by the locals), is held in the pine forest near the village Soroni, with various events, music and dance.
6 AUGUST: The Transfiguration of Christ is celebrated in the small chapel near the village of Fanes amidst food, wine and much dance.
15 AUGUST: Analipsi tis Panagias – Assumption of Mary. On the 15th of August each year, Rhodians commemorate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Many churches around the island celebrate with a Holy Mass in the morning and panigiri (celebration) with food, music and dancing in the village square in the evening until early morning.
8 SEPTEMBER: The celebration of Our Lady of Tsampika, is held at the monastery on the hilltop of Archangelos and the celebration of Our Lady of Skiadi in the picturesque church. Thereafter the panagiri is a fun-filled event.
25 DECEMBER: Christougena – Christmas Day. Whilst less important than Easter in Greece this is still a day for religious services and feasting.
Nowadays Christmas throughout Greece has been influenced heavily by Western traditions and everywhere you will find strings of lights and Christmas decorations, although, no doubt due to Greece’s close relationship with the sea, often boats, not trees are the centrepoint of Christmas decorations.
During the Christmas period children sing carols and are rewarded with small gifts of money.
CULTURAL & OTHER EVENTS
Popular and classical music concerts, opera, ancient drama, dance performances, art exhibitions and environmental festivals attract the interest of residents and visitors alike. These high caliber events have the added advantage of often being held in unique historic monuments.
ALL YEAR: MELINA MECOURI THEATRE
Throughout the year att the Melina Mercouri Theatre in the medieval dry moat there are cultural events with theatrical shows and various concerts.
ALL SUMMER: GREEK DANCE THEATRE
Visit the Greek Dance Theatre in the Old Town to see the tradition of yesterday alive today. Get to know the Dodecanese through their popular traditions, dances and song with live music and traditional costumes.
ONE WEEK AFTER EASTER: INTERNATIONAL CHOIR FESTIVAL
The International Choir Festival and competition is participated in by choirs from all around the world. It takes place in Rhodes National Theatre one week after Orthodox Easter (Wednesday to Sunday).
APRIL – OCTOBER: SOUND AND LIGHT SHOW
The Sound and Light Show that first began in 1961 is an impressive show, and the only one of its kind, and takes place in the Old Fortress of Rhodes Town. This unique artform has grown in popularity over the years and resembles a theatrical drama without any actors. Enjoy the narrated story of the knights of the Order of St. John in many different languages including English, Greek, French, Italian, Swedish, and German among others. The magnificent blend of light, sound and speech beautifully project the history of the island of Rhodes.
APRIL: The annual Marathon of Rhodes is organized by the Region of South Aegean, EAS SEGAS Dodecanese, DOOPAR of the Municipality of Rhodes and is supported by the Rhodes Hoteliers Association. It is under the auspices of the Greek Tourism Organization and is included in the official calendar of AIMS.
JULY: MARITIME WEEK CELEBRATION
During the first week of July each year there are cultural events as part of the Maritime Week celebrations with tours of the town of Rhodes, free entry to museums, sports events, art exhibitions and fireworks are laid on.
9- 11 JULY: JAZZ FESTIVAL OF RHODES
This year, the 6th ‘Jazz Festival of Rhodes’, will take place at ‘St. Paul’s Gate’ part of the battlements of Rhodes medieval town. All concerts are free to attend.
13 JULY : WATERMELON FESTIVAL
The annual ‘Watermelon Festival’ will be held at the lake near the village of Apolakkia (close to Lindos). There will be live music, song and dance, watermelon sculpture competitions and of course amongst other attractions, sweet watermelon to enjoy. The event starts at 18:00 until 00:30 Sunday.
20 – 30 JULY: INTERNATIONAL OPERA FESTIVAL
The International Opera Festival takes place each year in the courtyard of the Palace of the Grand Master.
16 – 19 SEPTEMBER: 1ST INTERNATIONAL FOLK FESTIVAL
This, the first International Folk festival will include traditional folk dance and song groups, choirs, classical & marching bands & majorettes, and orchestras.
SEPTEMBER: DAYS OF MUSIC FESTIVAL
“Days of Music” Festival of Rhodes, one of the most popular music festivals in Greece includes popular and classical music from all over the world. It takes place in the Medieval Town each year during the 2nd half of September, and is held in cooperation with Live Music Now – Yehudi Menuhin Foundation of Munich. This that has become standard for the last 12 consecutive years – against the mystical background setting of the medieval town.
Many festivals are organised in the rural areas of the island that are dedicated to the products of mother earth in each area, such as the wine festival in Embona. These festivals offer the opportunity to visitors not only to enjoy the celebrations but also to savour the traditional tastes and products of each village. Enquire at your hotel or the Tourist Organisation of Rhodes.