Greek Carnival is so much fun
Carnival time, better known as “Apokries”, is one of the most popular celebrations each year. In every village, town or city some kind of celebration is going on. Each district has its’ own customs and traditions, but one thing is for sure, everyone is joining in. The largest Carnival parade in Greece is held in Patra, and in Cyprus, the seaside town of Limassol.
Carnival customs vary from region to region, but all follow the same basic carnival calendar. Celebrations build up to “Tsiknopempti” – Grilling Meat Thursday, where large amounts of meat are consumed prior to the arrival of Lent. Tsiknopempti is celebrated during the week leading up to the third Sunday “Apokries” (Meat eating Sunday). The final Sunday is called Tyrofagou (Cheese eating Sunday). The following day is “Kathara Devtera” (Clean Monday) and the first day of Lent. Clean Monday is a Bank holiday in Greece & Cyprus. It signifies the beginning of 50 days fasting until Easter. People take to the countryside for picnics and to fly kites. Some prefer to go to a local restaurant for a Clean Monday lunch.
Origins of Carnival – some say from Greece
Greek carnival hails back centuries. Initially a celebration and tribute to Dionysus, the Greek God of Wine, it then spread to Italy with the creation of Bacchanalia and the worship of Bacchus, the Roman name for Dionysus. The movement grew and the Saturnalia fete was created (Saturnalia translates into excess of the senses). After this, the Catholic Church adopted the festival as a lead up to Lent. All of these factors contribute to present day Carnival as we know it, a yearly celebration of life.
Carnival of Patra
Patra’s carnival is no ordinary event. Two months of celebrations start on January 19 and culminate in the Grand Parade and Closing Ceremony on the final Sunday. Treasure hunts, Children’s Parades, Cutting of the Chocolate Carnival Cake, Carnival Scrabble, the Dance School Parade with live performances, the “Dancing in the Streets” photographic competition, the huge Carnival Float Parade – the list is endless. If you want to experience Carnival in Patra, here is their official website → Carnival of Patras
Dionysian Goat Dance – Carnival Festival
Processions of masked characters were an important part of Ancient Greece. These practices survive until today on the Greek island of Skyros. The festival usually takes place in late February or early March. Skyrians dress up as goats and attach goat bells to their costumes. Children can take part in the festivities, and women don traditional Skyrian dress. You can also spot other Carnival costumes, ranging from the bizarre to the ridiculous. On the final weekend a different scene is enacted each year.
Ragoutsaria – Carnival celebrations of Kastoria
The Ragoutsaria date back from ancient times and were part of Dionysian orgiastic rites. They used to place in the middle of winter after 25 December – the celebration for the birth of the Sun – to honour Nature for regenerating spring. The Ragoutsaria complete the 12 day celebration with unique regional customs of Kastoria which go back to the first inhabitants of the area, the Dorians. They are the rare remains of original Greek carnival.
All the residents of Kastoria take part in the celebrations. Each neighbourhood forms a group and each group has its’ own band. Apart from traditional instruments, the bagpipes and the ‘zournades’, since the early 1900’s bands started using more percussion instruments – the ‘takoumia’, and more wind instruments, remnants of military bands that would occasionally stop by the city. The scene is reminiscent of the big brass bands and jazz music of New Orleans.
“Apokries” in Limassol on the island of Cyprus
Limassol’s carnival gets bigger and better each year. A seaside town in on the south coast of Cyprus, Limassol is known as the town where you go to have fun. In keeping with Greek tradition, Cyprus follows the same dates and customs as Greece.