St. Dennis Day Celebrations, Zakynthos
The Greeks are very proud people and each of the Greek islands have their very own patron saint. Someone, who, in the past has done something so remarkable and totally selfless, that the church felt the need to recognise it and make them a saint. On Zakynthos that Saint is Sr. Dennis.
On Zakynthos that person was a man called Dennis (Dionisios). A local man, who was a priest back in the 1500’s. Not such a remarkable story so far, but what set Dennis (Dionisios) apart from most other people, is the fact that he forgave the man who murdered his brother.
One night, a strange man ran into the church where Dennis (Dionisios) was a priest, fearing for his life. The man told Dennis that he had killed a man. And on hearing the murdered mans name, Dennis realised that the dead man was in fact his brother. A fact he kept to himself.
Dionisios found it in his heart to give sanctuary to the stranger, the murderer of his brother and helped him to escape from the island, to safety.
Why Dionisios Was Made A Saint
Dennis (Dionisios) died at the grand old age of 75 and his body, buried. Three years later, when his body was exhumed, it was noticed that it had not decayed like bodies usually do. Instead it had mummified. It was then decided that he must have been a very special man indeed. And Dionisios was made the patron saint of Zakynthos.
His body was moved to the main church in Zakynthos town, where it remains untouched and still mummified to this day. Twice a year, on August 24th (the day his body was moved to the church) and December 17th (the day he died) his body is put on public display and there is a parade along Zakynthos harbour front, where people can pay their respects to this once, great man.
St. Dennis’s Day, Modern Day, August 24th Celebrations
In August, St. Dennis’s Day is celebrated over a period of three days. With a large outdoor market that stays for four days, a procession and a magnificent firework display on the actual day. The start of the celebrations are marked by gunfire at eleven o’clock on the morning of August 23rd; when I say gunfire I mean that anyone on the island who possesses a gun will go out into their garden or the street and fires several shots into the air.
It is quite a crazy experience and how no one has ever been killed I’ll never know…Or maybe they have?…I have, however heard of people getting injured by the shot as it lands.
It is a scary time for the dogs too, ours are all unsettled by the gunshots, probably because we live in a farming area and everyone has a gun. Roxy, our German shepherd, is absolutely petrified of gunshot and thunder and there is nothing we can do to calm her down. She gets very unsettled and there is very little we can do to calm her.
The end of the celebrations are marked in the same way; at eleven o’clock on the morning on August 26th.
During these three days the atmosphere is laid back and everyone is in a good mood. The island is packed and the tavernas along the harbour front, in the main town, make a killing as people head into town to soak up the atmosphere.
The market in the town is pretty much open for twenty four hours for the entire three days, although there are times when some of the stalls take a breather.
At seven o’clock, on the evening of August 24th fireworks are let off and the church bells ring out as the body of St. Dennis is taken out of the church and paraded around Zakynthos town. The procession, which includes church figures, the local brass band and few others, goes on for two hours and during this time the town gets very busy. Traffic is redirected out of town, so parking is a nightmare. We had to park at at least two kilometers away from the market and town, but rather that than face the congestion around the town.
At nine o’clock when his body is returned to the church, the moment is marked by church bells ringing and a very impressive firework display; which goes on for ten minutes at least!
We don’t always head into the St. Dennis’s Day celebrations as it is manic, but we have learned that the best time to visit the actual market is during the procession, as everyone is out watching and waiting for the firework display.
This year we went and as I wanted to video the fireworks, we didn’t get into the market until after the firework display, which is when everyone else heads there too and it was crazy busy! If the fireworks had not have been so impressive, or the overall atmosphere not so good, then we would probably have forgone the market, but as it was we were in the mood to mooch around and see what the market had to offer…Not a lot as it happened!…But we did get chocolate coated locomades (Greek doughnuts) and ate them as we headed back to the car; the thought of them are what gets us into town in the first place!
Locomades (Greek doughnuts)
We left the celebrations on a high and feeling glad we went.
All In All
If you ever happen to be on the Greek island of Zakynthos in August. Which is something I would never recommend, unless absolutely necessary, as the island is at it’s busiest! Then seeing the St. Dennis’s Day celebrations is a must. It is quite an amazing evening and the atmosphere is great. I don’t enjoy being around too many people, so in reality it should be my idea of a nightmare…Which I suppose it was, but in a good way.
Have you ever experienced St. Dennis’s Day on Zakynthos?
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