According to legend, during the Middle Ages a church in Thrace went up in flames. Villagers dashed into the fire to save the icons of the saints and emerged unharmed. To commemorate the miracle, Orthodox Christians created Anastenaria, an annual firewalking festival.
Today, Anastenaria takes place in northern Greece on May 21, the feast of Saint Constantine, and January 18, the feast of Saint Athanasius. Firewalkers are blessed with holy water and walk across burning embers. They carry religious icons, believing that they go into a trance in which their bodies are taken over by the festival saints. The festivals last for three days and also include parades, animal sacrifices, feasts, and dancing.
Agia Eleni, in Serres, and Lagadas, in Thessaloniki, are the main towns where the Anastenaria festival takes place, but it also occurs in Kerkini, Meliki, and Mavrolefki. The festival is open to tourists and spectators on the 21st, but locals hold a second private ritual on the 23rd. Anastenaria also takes place in southern Bulgaria, due to refugees moving between Greece and Bulgaria during the Balkan Wars in the early 1900s.