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It’s Carnival time all over Greece March 7, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Culture, Greek Culture Heritage, Special Features.
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The Germans, the Venetians and the people of Rio de Janeiro are renowned celebrators at Carnival time, but Greeks also have a deep-rooted Carnival tradition.

The Greek word for Carnival is Apokria. This is derived from apokreos, which in turn means abstaining from meat, because Carnival is followed by a period of fasting. The Carnival period, or Triodio, begins three weeks before Clean Monday. In these three weeks, you really must make the most of all the celebrations, because for the following 40 days of fasting leading up to Easter, going by the Julian calendar, the Orthodox Church allows no festivities. The first and second Sundays are Meat Sundays (Kreofagou), and the third Sunday is Cheese Sunday (Tirofagou). The main focus of the Carnival celebrations starts on the Thursday (Tsiknopempti in Greek) before Sunday – Kiriaki tis Apokrias.

In the north, people don goatskins and bells and go from house to house, wishing everyone a prosperous year and successful harvest. But the real celebrations take place in the Peloponnese region. In Patras, they celebrate the legendary “white ball”. All the principles of a centuries-old Orthodox tradition seem to be suddenly forgotten. Everyone, even the women, feel free to make fools of themselves. Clad from top to toe in black, groups of women walk through the streets, flirting with every man they like the look of, and dreaming of liberty and equality. The Patras Carnival celebration lasts four weeks and ends on Clean Monday. This is followed by a period of inner and outer purification. Another equally attractive custom practised throughout the country on Clean Monday is kite flying.

07-03-08_carnival_dancers.jpg  Dancers from the Aegean island of Skyros perform the ‘Struggle of the Yeri’ in central Athens streets

Skyros, an island in the Sporades, is famous throughout Greece for its Carnival celebrations. These go back to the story of a herdsman who lost his entire flock in a snowstorm. Beside himself with grief, the yeros (old man) took the skins from his animals, hung their bells about his body and returned to the village. Ever since the men of the island have dressed up in skins, bells, and masks once a year in his memory to perform the “Struggle of the Yeri”. According to how the clothes are worn, the yeros is a herdsman from the waist down and a goat from the waist up. On Clean Monday, the islanders gather in the streets, dance, roar and fight with each other, ringing their bells, which weigh up to 88 pounds (40 kilograms).

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