EVENTS & FESTIVALS
ST. DENIS FESTIVAL
Closely connected to the Orthodox Christian tradition, the inhabitants of Zakynthos honor the patron saint of the island, Agios Dionysios, -the "Saint og Forgiving" as he is called, since according to the tradition it was he who forgave and helped his brother's slayer escape, -twice a year: Firstly, on August 24th, when for three days the island is at its best, and the secondly on December 17, when the celebration again lasts three days. The events that take place in August, when the island is full of people, attract the interest of every visitor. From 23rd to 26th of August, thousands of people visit the Monastery of Agios Dionysios on the coastal street of the city. The pilgrimage of the saint is worshiped by visitors, forming endless queues every hour of the day and night. On August 24 in the afternoon, the Liturgy of the Holy relic of Agios Dionysios takes place on the central streets of the city. Hundreds of believers attend the litany, during the procession until it returns to the church. Army, aviation and navy bands play in the streets, while students and soldiers accompany the relic. Near the church, open-air markets and street vendors create a festive atmosphere for many days , while local products and sweets are sold everywhere. These days are of great significance for every Zakynthian person, since it is believed that Saint Dionysios protects their island from every evil.
Giostra is one of the oldest events known which takes place during the Zakynthian Carnival. It is not exactly known as to when Giostra actually started. It is believed, however that it is an ancient tradition. Officially, it was first mentioned in 1656. Along with ball dancing and the well known “Omilies” better known today as street theatre, where locals performed in converted open-air theatres, these were the most common forms of entertainment during carnival period on the island. It was a competition in which the competitors were mounted and took part for the chance to win the prize (first prize was a silver sword) and to honor the maiden in which they chose to compete for. Giostra includes racing and horse-racing craft, always gathering a big crowd of spectators. The horse parade begins from the historic St. Paul's Square and, passing through the city center, ends at the central square of Dionysios Solomos, where the event takes place. The knights on their horses, using their spear, must pull off a small hook that is hanging from a wooden structure. The knight winner takes the prize that is a girl for the sake of which he took part in the event. In recent years, delegations from several foreign countries have arrived in the island of Zakynthos to take part in Giostra, giving international status to the event. Every summer, the European Giostra is held in the Italian city of Sulmona.