KEA, Greece (AP) — Blending the spiritual with the material, mid-August marks the high point of Greece’s summer season that attracts crowds of city-dwellers back to their ancestral villages.
The Aug. 15 feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary is a major religious event coupled with festivals, known as “panigiria,” that can last more than a day with music, dancing and food, as itinerant traders' stalls sell anything from toys to clothes.
Greece has other important religious feast days, but Aug. 15 is one of the most intense. There is also a sense that shortly afterwards the summer holidays will end, everyone will return to the cities and the long, hard slog of everyday life will begin. So people seem to celebrate hard enough for the memories to last through the dreary winter months ahead.
Devotees flock to churches or well-known monasteries. On the island of Tinos, a main pilgrimage site, the more determined crawl on their knees to the church in an expression of piety and, often, in hope of a miraculous cure or other divine intercession.
Monday's celebration of the Dormition was the first in three years without the restrictions imposed by the lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic, and people turned out in droves.
Churches filled as people expressed relief that they could finally attend open events, but also fears that new restrictions could be imposed once the summer is over.
“People have relaxed; now, of course, only God knows (what’s next), but I think it was time. People can’t stand it any more,” Father Lefteris, the priest in the Panagia Kastriani church on the island of Kea, also known as Tzia, told The Associated Press.
His service was packed with people and the island, close to Athens, chock-full with the cars of vacationers who came from the Greek capital by ferry.
On the mainland, festivities in Hassia, on the northern fringes of Athens, were also exceptionally well-attended — both the religious service at the Church of the Dormition and the colorful bazaar in the village. Hassia is also renowned for its traditional eating spots, and the gluttonous feasting on tender meat was for many the highlight of their stay there.
Demetris Nellas contributed to this report from Athens.