Literature and Art Festivals and the International Folklore Festival
Lefkada was the first in Greece to institute Literature and Arts Festivals, in 1955, and the International Folklore Festival in 1962. Ever since, these events have taken place without interruption, every August, to this day, drawing on the age-old traditions of the Ionian Islands. They were immediately taken to heart by the local population, became a magnet as a tourist attraction, and were imitated all over Greece. The Literature and Art Festivals, as the name suggests, offer a variety of events of scholarly and literary content, such as lectures, theatre performances and concerts. There have been numerous exceptional moments over the years in the history of these festivals, culminating in the unplanned appearance of Maria Callas in 1964, her last performance before a Greek public. Internationally acclaimed names of the social sciences, outstanding Greek writers, renowned musicians, actors and more have participated in these festivals and functions.
During the Folklore Festival, the town’s streets are filled with dancers from countries the world over, in their national costumes, dancing and singing around the main square, waving flags and banners. In fact, the entire island is infused with the enthusiasm created by colourful national costumes, the variety of the music and the cheerfulness of dance groups from near or far.
These are days when it’s fun to be in Lefkada town, certainly on the first Sunday of the Folklore Festival. Early in the afternoon, these colourful and buzzing groups of dancers, usually accompanied by their musicians playing traditional music of their country, make their way down to the town and parade along the central Agora, cheered by the locals and visitors, who contribute in a variety of joyous ways and finally end up at the seashore.
Then, all together, a cheerful round of ‘Syrto’ is danced, which has been designated as the Dance for Peace and Fraternity among Peoples. Then, for an entire week, performances are given in the open-air theatre at Vardania on the edge of town.
Throughout the summer season various folk and religious festivals, music, dance and theatre performances, as well as scientific lectures are organized. These events are listed in detail in the programs of the Municipality of Lefkada. The following are some of the events worth attending:
Folk wedding reenactment. It is a three-day event that takes place since 1954, every August in the village of Karya. During the first day, the customs that precede the wedding ceremony are presented: matchmaking, engagements, hair washing, preparation of sourdough and dowry marking. In the second day, the reenactment of the traditional wedding and the feast take place in the village square. In the third day, the event concludes with the preparation of the wedding-pie, the traditional olive oil pie of Lefkada.
The feast of lentils in Agios Donatos. It takes place every August in front of the church of Agios Donatos in the village of Englouvi and is dedicated to the harvest of the new lentil crop. The women of the village cook in large caldrons the famous lentils of Englouvi and offer it to the participants. The feast finishes with a big traditional festival.
Festival of Lefkadian Gastronomy. It is held in Marka’s square every July and its purpose is to showcase the gastronomical profile of Lefkada, supporting the local products and producers.
Varkarola. A traditional Ionian custom that is reenacted every August. A small boat decorated with lanterns sails across the canal of the western beach while the island choir sings nostalgic songs on its deck.
It is also worth it to participate in the Wine Feast that is organized every August in the square of Fria, in the Riganada Feast in Karya and in the Wine Feast in Pigadisanus.
Important sports events
Green Half Marathon (21km route/ 10km route/ 5km route & 1000m. for kids). Is one of the fastest Half Marathons in Grecce, with great resonance in Greece and abroad. Date of Event: Saturday 4th of May 2019/ Beach park of Lefkada. For more information you can visit the official website.
The International Sailing Regatta. The international sailing regatta is a charity event which takes place annually (at the end of September) amongst the beautiful Ionian islands to the south of Lefkada. All levels of ability are welcome and regatta is split into two classes depending on boat type.
Mountain Bike Open Race. The open mountain bike race ''LEFKADA MTB OPEN RACE'' takes place annually (autumn) in and around the villages of Sfakiotes. The race begins and ends at the central square of Lazarata village. Each lap is about 17 km long and the total race is 35 km, all through forest paths, agricultural roads and village alleys.
Lefkada has to exhibit a rich cultural production thanks to its numerous associations that eagerly promote the island’s history and artistic tradition.
The Philharmonic Orchestra of Lefkada was founded in 1850 on the initiative of Lady Dorina Kalkani-Petritsopoulou, Aristotelis Valaoritis and other illustrious Lefkadians. The Philharmonic Orchestra demonstrated its multifaceted artistic identity at some of the most significant moments of the Greek Nation's history, and today, continues its musical tradition, with a presence at all local public events. It is the oldest society in Lefkada and the second oldest Philharmonic orchestra in Greece.
The Orfeas Music and Literary Club of Lefkada, awarded by the Academy of Athens and already counting 80 years of presence in the world of art, offers classes in mixed choir, various musical instruments, dance, a mandolin orchestra as well as a cinema club and a folklore museum, having achieved in all these years to masterfully integrate the traditional values in contemporary reality.
The Nea Chorodia Music and Dance Club of Lefkada was established in 1964 and offers music courses, a choir, a dance group and a mandolin orchestra. Every August, Nea Chorodia reenacts the spectacular Ionian custom of Varkarola.
The Pegasus Folk Dances Club of Lefkada, established in 1990, has contributed significantly to the dissemination of Lefkada’s authentic dance tradition. The newly established “Angelos Sikelianos” Philharmonic Association also contributes to the dissemination of the Ionian musical tradition. Some other important and active clubs and association include the following: Cultural Club “Alexandros Nidriou”, “Apolon Karias”, Cultural Club of Nikiana “Oi Skaroi”, Educational Cultural Club Tsoukaladon, Cultural Club Sfakioton “Fotinos”, photography club “Foto.kitaro”, Adults Theatre Workshop of Lefkada’s Cultural Centre, Cultural Group of Apolpena, Cultural Hub “Agermos”, Lefkada’s Dance Group and Cultural Club “Thealos”.
The highlight of preparations for Christmas is the baking of the “Christopsomo” (Christ-bread) or “Christokoulouro”. First the consecrated bread is made, the prosforo, little rolls offered at the Eucharist and stamped with the house stamp, and then the Christmas loaves (Christopsoma): for Christmas Eve in the shape of a cross, the New Year’s Eve loaf and the so-called Vlaches (in shapes of female dolls) and the Doxaria (shaped in a plait) for the children of the family and for the orphans and the poor children.
In the town, the custom to welcome in the New Year is to the sound of the ‘music of Diana’. ‘Diana’ here is a hymn for the morning, a lively composition played by the Philharmonic.
In Lefkada town the benediction of the waters takes place with grandeur. Once the churches have conducted the holy ritual of the day, the Metropolitan starts out from the church of Evangelistria, at the head of a crowd of believers, the entire devout procession decked with the hexapteryga (discs showing seraphim) lanterns and ‘skolas’ (banners of the guilds) and of course the holy icon of the Baptism.
They reach the harbour where the cross is cast into the sea. Some of the faithful dive in to recover it and others, the majority, hold oranges with their stalks joined to a string which they submerge in the sea three times at the same moment as the Metropolitan casts the cross. These blessed oranges are then hung on icons.
On the last Sunday of Carnival, the town organises a great parade of imaginatively disguised revellers on floats which, accompanied by masked pedestrians also in costume, head down the market street spreading jokes, teasing, fun and conviviality.
Easter week – Easter
The procession of the Easter Bier (Epitaphios) takes place on the evening of Good Friday. In the town, where every church has its own Bier, each parades it in its local quarter, whereas that of the Metropolitan church ends in the central square, having gone along the market street accompanied by the officials and the Philharmonic.
From the early hours on Easter Saturday the atmosphere becomes celebratory. In the morning the Philharmonic enters the market street, playing marches-the signal for housewives to throw fragile clay pots from up high, making a terrific clatter as they smash, thus breaking the mourning of Holy Week or, according to others, killing Judas who betrayed Christ.