Zakynthos is full of culture; some historical, some more modern. Whether it is Traditional Festivals, places of interest to visit, or museums to explore there is lots for visitors to learn about Zakynthos and its vast and interesting history.
As with other areas of Greece, Zakynthos hosts many traditional festivals. These festivals are an integral and important part of both Greece’ and the islands traditions. Everyone looks forward to them every year, and they show just how important it is to honour the islands heritage and keep Greek culture alive.
Carnival takes place seven weeks before Greek orthodox Easter. The Carnival has been taking place on the island for generations. Parts of it stretch back to the Venetian era. Still very traditional, it follows the themes of the original Carnival, combined with more modern ones. Zakynthos Carnival is followed by Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera) – kite-flying day, which signals the beginning of fasting Lent.
One of the most important Greek Orthodox traditions is Greek Easter. Dictated by use of the Julian calendar as opposed to the Gregorian calendar Greek Easter is often different to Western Easter dates. Greek Easter Holy week commences forty days after Great Lent. What follows is then is a celebration of many Easter Traditions from Palm Sunday, right through to Pascha. Greek Easter is highly celebrated on Zakynthos and is very important traditionally to islanders.
Giostra takes place fifty days after the Greek Orthodox Easter. It is one of the oldest events on Zakynthos. It used to be part of the Zakynthos Carnival but is now celebrated during the three-day celebrations of the Holy Spirit. Giostra is a competition where competitors, mounted on horseback, compete against each other to win. Zakynthos has two Giostra competitions. No one knows exactly when Giostra started, but its first official mention is in 1656. It is an event full of competition, costumes and proud old tradition.
St. Dionysios is the Patron Saint of Zakynthos. He is s huge part of island life and there are a number of special celebration dates in his honour throughout the year. St. Dionysios was born on the island in 1547. With Venetian Ancestors, he was baptised into the Christian faith. After the death of his parents Dionysios entered the Monastery of Strophades, starting life as a priest. He has an incredibly interesting shivery, and is now known as the Patron Saint of Zakynthos. There are churches named after him, including the large church on the harbour’s edge in Zakynthos Town.
August 23rd to 26th is the festival of St. Dionysios, where islanders celebrate the return of his relics to Zakynthos. Celebrations also take place December 16th to 18th, which is the name day of St. Dionysios.
Both of these festivals are extremely important to the island and highly celebrated.
Other notable Festival dates
03rd May – Macherado Festival / St. Mavra
A day of feasting, followed by dancing, takes place in the small village of Macherado, where the miracle-working icon of St. Mavra can be found in a church in the village. The current church was re-built in 1631 after being destroyed in a large earthquake.
31st July – Explanation of Maliarou
This is a local custom of “hairy”, a stone covered in seaweed, plucked from the seabed the following day, which brings good luck for the year.
01st August – Welcoming of Lent
Bells are rung to show Zakynthians that it is time to take off their shoes, roll up their trousers and enter the sea to catch the “Hairy” one. Once found, the trophy is raised and taken home and placed under the bed to bring them good luck.
22nd to 26th August – The Open Market
The open market runs during the Patron Saints name day (St. Dionysios) celebrations.
Religious Panigiria celebrations also take place throughout the year; name days where there is music, dancing, food and drink.
17th July – Agia Marina at the village of Agia Marina
22nd July – Maria Magdelena at Maries Village
24th July – Monastery of Agios Ionnis above Katastari
26th July – Agia Paraskevi at Meso Volimes
July/August – In previous years wine festivals have also taken place at Kato Geraki, Keri, Macherado and Kalipadou
06th August – Church of Sotiras at Pantokratoras
August – There have also been celebrations of Varkaola; Night boat rides at Keri and Agios Nikoloas, Skinari.
08th September – Monastery of Spiliotissa in Orthonies.
The Monastery at Anafonitra (named for the Virgin Mary) celebrates both its name day and Patron Saints name day towards the end of the month of August.
Eleven days before Carnival is Barbeque Thursday where meat (usually pork) is cooked on the barbeque or naked in the oven and eaten. Zakynthos Town is well known for its portable barbeques that offer free Souvlaki.
Theatre is part of Zakynthos’ history and islanders are very proud of it. It is believed that theatrical performances began on the island as far back as 1571 on a site overlooking Zakynthos Town. These early theatrical performances were known as Omilies. Many playwrights are linked to the island and theatre was an extremely popular pastime with island residents for centuries. The municipal Theatre was built on the island in 1875, but was sadly destroyed in the 1953 earthquake. A new theatre has now been built in Zakynthos Town, and it’s hoped that it will entertain islanders once more.