The calendar year in Naxos is filled with numerous folk customs that are celebrated through various feasts and events, some of which are simply symbolic in nature. These feasts and events keep alive the ancient ways and customs that have been passed down through generations via folk rituals that have been adapted to the religious, social, and economic conditions of the respective eras. In addition to this wealth of customs and festivities, the Municipality of Naxos and Small Cyclades organises scores of worthy cultural events annually. Together, these feasts and events create an interesting cultural mosaic that is impressive for both Greeks and visitors from abroad.
The Naxos Carnival is a cherished annual celebration featuring distinctive and traditional events held across the island and its numerous villages. The Carnival, or “Apokries,” is celebrated in Naxos with feasting, drinking, singing, and dancing. One of the most unique traditions is the “Koudounatoi”, where men dress up in goat skins and large bells and run around the streets making noise in the Apeiranthos and Filoti villages. These folk customs have their roots in the ancient Dionysian festivals, which were celebrated during the same season as the ancient festival of Dionysian springtime.
During the month of July, the Union of Rural Cooperatives, in partnership with the cultural association of Saint Arsenios and the Region of South Aegean, hosts a wonderful celebration dedicated to potatoes. With over 4,000 attendees every year, guests can enjoy traditional music, dance, and indulge in various potato-based recipes. Naxos is renowned for its delectable potatoes, producing nearly 17,000 tonnes annually and 1,500 tonnes of potato seeds.
(August) Due to its diverse flora, Naxos is home to around 5,000 beehives that produce nearly 50 tonnes of virgin thyme honey every year. The Honey Festival is held in August and offers a range of educational activities for both children and adults. The locals share many recipes using honey, making it a sweet celebration for everyone to enjoy.
Raki Distillery Festival
(October) In October, Naxos’ traditional distilleries prepare to produce raki, a local alcoholic beverage. The aroma of the spirits and the scent of the baked goat meat and quinces can be sensed throughout the island. In late November, the village of Moni hosts the raki festival, where visitors can witness the distillation process and sample the traditional spirit.
(September) Naxos is also known as the island of Dionysus. The residents cultivate 5,646 acres of vineyards, producing flavorsome and aromatic varieties of wines. At the end of every summer, the Komiaki village takes on the entire process of wine production. The villagers gather the grapes, crush them in the traditional grape mill, and transport the grape must using animals into the vats. Afterwards, everyone can taste the wine that has already been produced, as well as local delicacies while listening to traditional music.
(August) Taking place in early August at Kaloxylos, Naxos, the Elaia Festival presents a unique opportunity for visitors to discover artists through their work. Sculpture, photography, live music, theatre, and dance performances are all featured on the event’s programme. The festival aims to become one of the island’s premier cultural events, offering visitors days filled with art, imagery, sound, colour, and music.
Graviera Cheese Festival
(September) Naxos is renowned for its production of the famous graviera cheese, which is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product. Around 1,000 tonnes of this cheese are produced annually on the island, thanks to the rich flora and ideal climate conditions. Naxos is also home to approximately 4,500 bovines and 110,000 goats and sheep, which provide high-quality milk for cheese and meat production. The Graviera Cheese Festival, held in September and organised by the Union of Rural Cooperatives, is a celebration of this prized local product, and offers visitors the chance to taste a variety of cheeses and learn more about their production.
Around 3,000 tonnes of fish are caught by the local fishing fleet in the waters around Naxos. The Fishermen’s Festivals take place on the name day of Saint Nikolaos (in December) in the medieval settlement known as Chora, and in early summer in Apollonas village.
Olive Oil Festival (January)
At the beginning of each year, the Olive Oil Festival draws many visitors to the traditional oil mill in Damalas village. Here, visitors can witness the traditional production of olive oil and celebrate with the locals by sampling the delicacies made by the village housewives.
On the first of May, it is customary for people to venture out into the nearby countryside to gather flowers. Using these flowers, a wreath called the “May” is made and hung above the entrance to one’s house, as it is believed to bring good luck.
Ai Giannis Klidonas
(24th June) celebrated on 24th June, is one of the most prominent summer festivals on Naxos. The festival’s nickname, Klidonas, is derived from the ancient Greek word “klidon,” which refers to the prognostic sound and the incoherent words uttered during divination rituals. A significant aspect of the festival is the role of fire, symbolising purification and the expulsion of evil. In certain mountain villages, residents construct a human-like figure made of hay, which is eventually thrown into the fire. Following this ritual, the celebrations continue with joyful music and dance, creating a vibrant atmosphere. Participating in Ai Giannis Klidonas allows visitors to witness the rich cultural traditions of Naxos and experience the unique customs and rituals associated with this summer celebration.
Panigiri is an essential summer experience in Naxos. It is a local festival that embodies ancient customs that have endured to the present day. Once a year, each village honours its own patron saint’s day. Following the church ceremony, the feast takes place in the open air, usually in the central square, where the festivities commence with music and carry on with feasting and dancing until the early hours of the next day. The festival nurtures a sense of community, uniting people to celebrate a common cause and relish the simple joys of life.
From the religious ceremony to the communal meals and the lively music and dancing, Panigiri is a celebration that blends the young with the old, locals with visitors. If you partake in a Panigiri festival, you are almost guaranteed to become caught up in the merriment and discover yourself dancing. It is an opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the local culture and traditions, forge unforgettable memories with new acquaintances, and encounter the vibrant and distinctive customs of Naxos. As the saying goes in Naxos, “they learn to dance first, and then to walk.”
The most important festivals during the summer months are: