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Carnival Customs And Traditions Around Greece
The Latin word Carnival consists of the words carne which means meat and vale which means to salute (briefly Carnival means farewell to meat) and basically signifies the last chance for Christians to celebrate, eat and drink before they enter the Great Lent which prepares them for Easter. Greek Carnival lasts three weeks: the first week begins on Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, the second one begins on Sunday of the Prodigal Son and the third and last week is called the Cheesefare Week when you are not allowed to eat meat, only dairy products.
Throughout the Carnival Season people disguise, a lot of parties are thrown and people go out and have fan. One of the Season's high points is the second week's Thursday when people barbeque or go out to restaurants and eat massive amounts of meat. The Season ends the Sunday before Clean Monday when parades are being held and at Patra's Carnival which is Greece's most famous one, people witness the ceremonial burning of King Carnival at Patra's harbour.
Greek Carnival dates back to Ancient Greece where people used to celebrate Dionysus, God of wine, grape harvest, ritual madness and ecstasy. Ancient Greeks disguised as satyrs, drunk a lot of wine, danced and provoked with their songs and actions. Today Carnival is celebrated all around Greece, each city though has it's own customs and traditions.
With Patra holding the biggest annual float parade in Greece, on the last Sunday of the Greek Carnival, thousands of people are drawn to the city to watch the festivities. Dancing, concerts and a great treasure hunt are the highest points of this crazy carnival which culminates in the burning of King Float, on Sunday evening at the city's harbor.
In the beautiful city of Galaxidi the custom of Flour Wars takes place since 1801. People paint their faces with charcoal and march to the harbor where they start to throw flour at each other until they run out of it. There is also a neutral zone for those who just want to watch and it is kind of spectacular even if you are not participating.
The last weekend of the Carnival in Amfissa, and more precisely in the area of Harmaina, takes place the Legend of the Spirit. Those legends about spirits, ghosts and doomed souls that wander around the city were very common amongst the citizens. The legend says that there was once a beautiful girl and a handsome man, they were madly in love and they were making dreams for their future. One day the girl went out to get some water but it soon started raining. The weather got quickly so bad that the girl could not go back home so she sat under a tree and waited. Poorly she got struck by lighting and she died. When her fiance found out he could not bare her death, he was so much in pain that the next day the neighbours found him dead. The Church did not accept him because they thought he commited suicide so he was doomed to wander eternally. Every year, the last Sunday of the Carnival people disguise and follow the Spirit, dancing, singing and making noise, trying to scare the Spirit away and warn everyone that something wicked their way comes.
The night of the Spirits
Τhe Carnival of Corfu borrows many elements from the Carnival of Venice but also stays true to their own traditions. The coming of King Float is announced and when his will is read it’s time for his burning. In some villages there is the tradition which is called the dance of the priests. There is also the tradition of the sacred wedding as it was called until 1960. It takes place early in the morning of Cheesefare Sunday, when all the women of the village gather to the house of the bride, to help her get ready for her wedding. All the men meet up at the groom’s house to help him get ready as well. The fact that the bride is a big guy with an even bigger moustache is another story here. You see, the strict paternalistic society forbade women to actually participate in any festivities taken place so a man had to play the role of the bride. And to get things worse there is also a demon ,disguised as a satyr who tries to break up the marriage.
The beautiful island of Naxos is considered to be the homeland of God Dionysus. The last Sunday of the Carnival Season in Apeiranthos, a village located about 28km at the northeastern part of the capital of the island, 'Koudounatoi' make their appearance. They wear hooded capes and a belt from which bells are loosely hanging. They hold a stick which represents the phallus of Dionysus and they wander around making a lot of noise, swearing and provoking with their actions.
As soon as the Carnival Season begins the tradition of the 'Old Man' and his 'Korela', his wife, starts as well. The 'Old Man' is dressed in a black cape, white pants and a belt with bells, the weight of which can reach 50 kilos. He wears a mask made of lambskin to cover his face and walks dancing while the sound of the bells he's wearing around his waist follows him. 'Korela' is dressed in the traditional outfit of the island which has white as the basic colour, basically to set herself apart from the outfit of her Old Man. She usually dances around him and sings about his qualities and values. This tradition goes way back in time and the older citizens of the island say that a long long time ago an awful disaster struck Skyros that resulted in the death of all of island's animals. A shepherd then wore around his waist the bells that belonged to his dead animals and tried to make noise so that he would warn the other citizens of the disaster.
Last but not least, in Thiva we witness the reenactment of an old custom called 'Vlaxikos Gamos' which goes back to 1830 and resembles the Sacred Wedding of Corfu. There is also the custom, called the Dance of the Dead which symbolizes the death of winter and the birth of spring.