May Day in Greece can come as a surprise to American tourists and others who are not used to the European passion for this day, which can be celebrated vigorously enough to disrupt some travel plans.
May Day is called protomagia in Greek. May First is also International Workers Day, a holiday first popularized by the Soviet Union as a holiday for workers.
While it has lost many of its original communist associations, it still is vigorously celebrated in former Soviet-bloc countries and other places in Europe. You can expect worker’s groups and unions to be active today; major strikes are sometimes scheduled for May Day.
Since May Day corresponds with the peak of the flower season, flower shows and festivals are common and every major municipality will put on something to commemorate the day. The city of Heraklion on the big island of Crete puts on a city flower show…and may have been doing so for the past few thousand years. The ancient Minoans are believed to have celebrated one of their two major “New Year” celebrations about this time; the other was in October. A flower festival for the wild young Greek god Dionysos was also celebrated at this time.
Traditional cauldron (www.zarpanews.gr)
One very common commemoration is the making of a May wreath out of the local wildflowers which is then hung on doorways, balconies, in chapels, and many other places.
As you are driving through the towns and villages keep an eye out for them hanging from balconies and walls. They are generally left to dry and will be burned at about the time of the Summer Solstice, St John the Harvester’s feast day on June 24th.
How Will May Day Affect my Travel Plans in Greece?
Some transportation schedules may be slightly different, but the biggest impact is likely to be parades or protests interrupting traffic in major downtown metro areas.
Most monuments, museums, and attractions, as well as some shops, will be closed; restaurants will tend to be open in the evening at least.
One lovely thing about May Day in Greece is that it also usually marks the beginning of really beautiful weather in Greece and the Greek islands. The waters are warming up, flowers are blooming, crowds are light, and prices are still low.
Is May Day always on May First?
On the rare occasions that Greek Easter Sunday falls on or near May First, the more ancient, secular and even somewhat pagan holiday “Festival of the Flowers” once associated with Demeter and Persephone may be delayed or rescheduled until the following weekend.