The 15th of August is one of the biggest religious celebrations in Greece after Easter and Christmas, a national holiday that is observed by the public and private sector.
Dekapentavgoustos (15 August), as the day is referred to in Greek, is the day of the Dormition of Virgin Mary. On the Greek Orthodox calendar this date marks the moment when Mary, Christ’s mother, ascended into Heaven. It is considered a day, not of mourning, but a celebration of joy for the union of the mother with her son.
Greeks prepare themselves by fasting from 1 to 14 August. The fast is broken on the 15th.
It is tradition for Greeks to flock to home villages or islands and attend celebrations that are held at churches throughout the country.
The most popular celebration in the country for the commemoration of Mary’s passing takes place on Tinos where the Greek Orthodox Church’s holiest cathedral, the Panaghia Evangelistria, stands. Pilgrims flock by the thousands to this Cycladic island each year to the church that is home to a miraculous icon of Virgin Mary, discovered underground in 1823.
Other very popular celebrations across Greece are those held on Paros (Panagia Ekatontapyliani), Imathia (Panagia Soumela), Lesvos (Panagia Agiasotissa), Nisyros (Panagia Spiliani), Patmos(Epitaph Mary) and Kefalonia (Panagia Fidousa).
According to legend, when the island was attacked by the pirate Barbarossa in 1705, the nuns in the convent at Markopoulou prayed to Mary to help them escape and were turned into snakes.
Since then, “Virgin Mary’s snakes” enter the Dormition of Virgin Mary Church and head for the bishop’s throne and the icon of the virgin.
The snakes are harmless and, according to villagers, bring good luck to the island. If they fail to appear, it is said to be a bad omen, as happened in the years of major earthquakes in Kefalonia some decades ago.