In Greece Carnival is also known as the “Apokries”. The word means “abstention from meat” because it signals the period before the 40 days Lent which precedes Orthodox Easter. Nowadays Carnival represents traditions of the Orthodox church. Yet still, a lot of the customs date back to ancient times. Those customs go as far back as the celebrations of Dionysus the God of wine, festivity and wild frenzy! During the Carnival season, people disguise themselves as “maskarades” (masquerades) and engage in pranks and revelry. Here are some of the most fun and unique Carnival celebrations you can enjoy in Greece. Pick your favourite destination, hope into your car and celebrate the Greek Carnival like a local!
Janissaries and Boules in Naoussa
Naoussa is a city located in central Macedonia, in the northern part of Greece. Naoussa celebrates the Carnival season with a unique event whose revival dates back to the 18th century. Its name is “Janissaries and the Boules”. It is essentially a dance event that follows certain rules and the participants are exclusively men. The Janissaries, represent unmarried men. They wear a distinctive moustache mask and chest plates decorated with coins. The group gathers gradually, passing from house to house. The Janissaries are accompanied by musicians playing traditional instruments like the zurna and drums.
Flour wars “Alevromoutzouromata” in Galaxidi
Galaxidi is a small, picturesque, coastal town of Central Greece. The town’s most famous festivity of Carnival season is “Alevromoutzouromata” which means flour smudge. This custom is a flour war between the participants, who throw each other kilos of dyed flour. This unique tradition dates back to the 19th century when the country was under Turkish occupation. The residents of Galaxidi decided to celebrate Carnival as an act of defiance. The war takes place every year on Clean Monday during the whole day until dusk when all the warriors start piling into nearby tavernas to celebrate the start of the fasting season.
The biggest city of the Peloponesse peninsula hosts the most iconic Carnival in Greece and one of the biggest in Europe. Although the peak of the celebrations happens on the last weekend of Apokries, several festivities take place during the three weeks of the Carnival season. One of the most famous is “Bourboulia”. Bourboulia is a ball where men pick their dancing partners between women in black costumes who cover their faces with domino masks. Τhe big treasure hunt is also one of the locals’ favourite activities, and the highlight of the celebrations is the parties and last Sunday’s big parade.
On Saturday night the people flood the streets for the night walk “nychterini podarati” partying and dancing until the early morning hours. On Sunday, giant decorated floats and colourful papier-mâché figures fill the city streets. One of the key elements of the parade is the Carnival King, the one who will signal the end of Carnival season with his burning at Saint Nicholas’ pier on the main port.
“Koudounatoi” in Skyros
Skyros is an island in the Aegean Sea, and part of the Sporades group. The most famous Carnival tradition of the island is “Koudounatoi” which means the ones with the bells. It happens every Sunday leading up to Lent. The distinct characters of this custom are the “Yeroi” (old men), the “Koreles” (women wearing rags) and occasionally the “Frangos”. The costumes of the old-men are very impressive. Black furry capes with hoods, animal skin masks and 40 sheep bells around the waist. The Koreles wear traditional Skyrian costumes with masks on their faces. They parade around the town streets, making loud noises along the way until they reach bells at the Monastery of Agios Georgios.
The legend says that the Yeroi represent an old shepherd who lost 40 of his sheep during a cold winter. It was during Carnival season. The devastated old-man wanted to inform his fellow villagers about the calamity. He wore his dead animals’ bells around his waist and along with his tattered wife he paraded in the alleys of the village.
“Bourani” in Tyrnavos
Tyrnavos is a town of Thessaly which is famous for the “Bourani” on Clean Monday. Bourani is a dish with spinach, wild greens and vinegar. Apart from the tasty dish, this custom is known for the phallic theme surrounding the celebrations. The locals swarm around every square and neighbourhood. They sing obscene, satirical songs, while tempting passers-by with naughty gestures. They also carry handmade phalluses of wood or clay. This event is unique in Greece and is associated with the beginning of spring, the fertility and vegetation. The custom has its roots in the Dionysian worship.
Carnival is a period full of celebrations, food and fun with friends and strangers! It doesn’t matter where you are, you will always find something interesting to do. Find in LifeBeyondBoarders article things to do in Athens during Carnival.
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