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The Carnival of Patras March 8, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Greek Culture, Greek Culture Heritage, Special Features.
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Albeit not as renowned as certain other Mediterranean and central European carnivals, Patras’s carnival is amongst Europe’s finest. Together with that of Nottingham, in London, it is the largest in terms of active participation (40.000 masqueraders in the Great Parade) and, without doubt, the first in participation of young people and therefore leading in enthusiasm and passion.

The Carnival started approximately 180 years ago and has since exhibited a historically interesting course and development. It all began in 1829, with masquerade balls thrown in the residences of the locals bourgeois. At some point, from 1870 onwards, the bourgeois also finances the construction of carnival floats and the parade comes into being. For many decades, the balls and parade constitute the official carnival of Patras and are the basis of its fame outside the city’s limits.

In its fringe, of course, there is a popular version, with parties in taverns or private residences and the mpoules (an improvised masquerade, usually with the help of clothing belonging to the opposite sex, one’s grandmother ect). The floats and masquerades are constructed by popular artisans, a fact reflecting on their style. The Carnival however, remains a bourgeois festival as the tone is set by flamboyant balls and the organization and financing of the parade and floats. And, with the exception of the mpoules, the bourgeois is behind its few but representative customs – the waxed egg war, the chocolate-war and the balls of the “bourboulia”.

This carnival, indeed, is purely of Italian origin and is completely unrelated to the pagan carnival customs of the rest of the country, whose roots are lost in time, dating back to the ancient god Dionysus, and whose phallic symbols and wantonness in disguise and song constitute the rural rituals for springtime fertility and the productivity of land and flock.

Its western character is enforced by the fact that apart from the de facto cosmopolitan composition of the local bourgeois (Greeks from the colonies, together with English, Germans and others as local representatives or businessmen themselves in the raisin commerce) popular participation in the carnival is represented mostly by the city’s large Italian community (political fugitives from their country) and by the islanders from the Ionian Islands who have settled in Patras in search of work.

At times more robust or less inspired – in proportion to concurrent political and financial situation, the Patras Carnival, with its Italian, bourgeois and “prim and proper” features, marched on until 1940. In the period between 1940 and 1950 the carnival was not celebrated because of the war, the enemy occupation and the Civil War that ensued in Greece after liberation from the Nazis. It will resume from 1951 with one modification: from now on the organizer shall be the Municipality of Patras.

The greatest subversion, however, came from within, and indirectly reflected the social changes in the young generation’s rights and perceptions after 1968, albeit superficially resulting from two coincidental events. In 1966 a game was tried, in the context of the carnival: a treasure hunt for the crews of the carnival float cars. 94 people participate, and numbers will gradually rise within the following years, as the ownership of a car, as a condition for participation is abandoned. (Amongst these 94 we find the presenter Alkis Steas, who from the following year until .. contributed greatly to the treasure hunt and the carnival of Patras in general).

In 1981 the Municipality’s failure, due to financial difficulties, in producing an adequate number of carnival floats for the Great Parade lead, as a compulsory solution, to the participation of carnival groups. That was it. The participation of young people in the treasure hunt groups rises rapidly and when, after 1987, the organizing Municipality fully accepts and encourages the fact, the rise in participation is effectuated by geometric progression. The Patras carnival becomes a matter of youth; it evolves into a public festival of the people of Patras and thus experiences a wild development in all parameters.

Related Links > http://www.carnivalpatras.gr/index.php?section=7

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