The word “panigiri” describes a local festival the locals of an island organise in the courtyard of a church on the eve of the day the church’s saint is celebrated.
An event you should never miss
“Panigiria” have been around for centuries and it is an occasion for islanders to feast long into the night. Sometimes pilgrims may walk for hours to reach the white washed church and attend the festival. So in essence, the pleasure begins when one sets foot on the path to the church, as by walking you get the chance to take in unbelievable vistas of the sea and the landscape as well as take in the smells of the wild herbs along the way.
The host of the festival is the “panigiras”, a local who has the honour to have the icon of the celebrated saint at home for a whole year and bring it back to the church on the day of the “panigiri” to be blessed during the liturgy. When the mass is over, the pilgrims sit down around the “tables of love” to taste soup, olives, meat with tomato sauce and pasta, cod and drink lots of wine toasting the “panigiras”. Afterwards people will dance and sing until the early morning hours. The following morning the next “panigiras” will take the holy icon to his home to keep for one more year.
An experience you will not forget is the “panigiri” of Xylopanagia on Serifos, an island in the Cyclades. The feast takes place on the fifteenth of August around an old olive tree at the oldest church of the island in the square of the village Panagia. The name “Xylopanagia” was taken because of the fighting with wooden (“xylo” in Greek) sticks between men rivaling for the first dance with their sweetheart. According to local tradition, the couple that would dance first around the olive tree would be married within the year. The custom may no longer be observed but you will be dancing along with the rest of the people of Serifos for three days around this famous olive tree!
To find out whether there is a “panigiri” you may visit during your stay on an island check out the websites that major islands have. There are very few islands that will not have a “panigiri” around the fifteenth of August, the day Greeks celebrate the Assumption of Virgin Mary.