On August 15, The Greek Orthodox church celebrates the Assumption. But that is just the religious “excuse” for villages to be decorated, folklore festivals to be held, shows of traditional dances to be staged, and a festive atmosphere to be impatiently expected by Greeks and foreigners alike.
The top pilgrimage destination is Tinos, the Cycladic island with the church of Virgin Mary that has become its landmark: no wonder the day of the Assumption is the most important of the year there. Thousands of pilgrims have made a solemn promise to genuflect before the holly icon. Some of them go up the hill where the church is situated on their knees! The feeling of awe and commotion spreads around the town when the icon is carried about is procession.
One of the most imposing churches on the Aegean islands is the paleo-christian Virgin Mary of Ekatontapiliani in the capital of Paros, Paroikia. The icon’s procession is followed by people dancing to the local folklore rhythms while sipping at wine from the island. Just a few kilometers away and a few hours later, the night becomes a day when dozens of caiques approach the port of Naoussa with burning torches.
The Greeks that once used to live in the area of Pontus, a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, have brought to Greece all their customs and traditions. Their religious emblem, the Holy Monastery of Virgin Mary Soumela, sees thousands of people swarming all over on the Assumption day, not only for fulfilling their religious duties, but also for enjoying the time-honoured morals and customs of Pontus music, dance and gastronomy.
If you are on Patmos, follow the trimmed with gold epitaph that the monks carry around the cobbled streets of the island. In Zagorohoria, the festivities last for as long as three whole days at the end of which one can hardly move a hip after so much dancing. On Thassos, the devout Christians attend the Mass but look forward to the following meal, consisting of potatoes, rice and veal stew with onions. On Lesvos, it is a custom for the believers to walk 25km from the town of Mytilini to the church of Virgin Mary in Agiassos, and spend the night in its yard.
In Kefalonia, a unique phenomenon that recurs year after year on the day of the Assumption attracts the visitors: small harmless snakes show up on the dome of the church of the village Markopoulo, as if they intended not to miss the religious celebration. The local legend provides an explanation for this: in the years when pirates were thriving, some nuns of the area begged Virgin Mary to transform them into snakes, so that they wouldn’t be subjugated to the sea invaders. Virgin Mary showed mercy to the scared women, and now it seems that they just come back every year to eternity, in order to thank the Holly Mother.