Over the years, I’ve heard one too many different opinions about the origins of the word ‘canival’. However, it appears to hail from the late latin words ‘carnem’ (meat) and levare (to remove/ take away) which actually sums up the purpose of the carnival period: to prepare yourself for the Easter fast. The greek word ‘απόκριες’ (apokries) also indicates an abstinence from meat.
The celebrations that accompany carnival originate from ancient Greece and the Dionysian rites, that took place in late winter and symbolised the coming of spring. In Athens, specifically, a chariot would make its way to the city while being followed by dancers and singers, who were dressed up in costumes that resembled goats and sang satyrical songs. After the prevalence of Christianism, pagan elements were fused with the new traditions, thus indicating the beggining of the Lent.
Modern carnival started appearing in Greece during the 19th century, after the Ionian islands were unified with the mainland. The Ionians, that were under heavy italian influence, contributed greatly in shaping contemporary celebrations.
The duration of the carnival period can vary, depending on Easter. The opening ceremony always takes place on a Saturday night in mid January. The same doesn’t apply for the closing ceremony, though. The Burning of the Carnival King, that marks the end of celebrations, is exactly seven weeks before Easter. If Easter comes late, like this year, carvival can last up to two months!
Different cities host different events and, honestly, there are too many of them to be written here. Therefore, I will only focus on those that take place in the city of Patras, where I live.
In order to take part in the parades, you need to sign up in a crew. Crews can be found anywhere in the city and each of them has their own set of costumes for males and females (you can choose whichever you want). Sometimes, crews have more than one costumes to choose from (mostly for females, though :P). You need to pay for your costume (duh!) and price depends on quality as well as the number of members. (If you go with friends as group, you get discount, discount good! *said in russian accent* 😛 )
One would think that the opening ceremony of such a grand series of events would be rather extravagant and it would feature a variety of shows but, actually, it’s more of a warm-up. It lasts for a few hours only and usually features singing by local singers/bands as well as dancing by some of the cities dance schools. A fireworks display couldn’t be missing of course (this time they went a bit overboard with it, making it even more gorgeous!). This year, we also had an acrobatics show that was a really nice addition
It’s also the first day we can dress up, although most people go for a simple pair of animal ears or a mask rather than a full costume (at least I think it was, because I’m short and couldn’t see well ._.)
After the start of the carvival period, no major events take place until the famous Smoky Thurday. Every meat lover lives for this day. Just like the name says, it’s a Thursday…. a barbequed one! Every store, wheather it is a hair saloon or a bookstore can set up their rotisserie (is this even a word? that’s what google gave me…) and roast dozens after dozens of souvlakia, selling them ridiculously cheap to passerbys, with loud music blasting out from the speakers.
At schools, students and teachers can dress up however they want. In some elementaries, parents and teachers come and set up the rotisseries in the school yard and give children souvlakia for free, while they are having a party dressed up in their costumes. In middle schools, teachers usually order from a store and students have to pay a small price to get their souvlakia. In high schools…. well, they just let the students off much earlier without giving them any meat. It is a great chance to go out and eat with your friends, though.
In the city center, certain events are organised for this day. This year we had a comedy wrestling show, in which various weirdos engaged in fake fights to win food. Later in the day, we have the annual ‘Marriage of koulourou*’ (*erm…that can be translated as ‘a woman who sells buns’ or something…?). It’s an old custom that presents a marriage and it takes place in the old part of the city, near the Roman Conservatory. It is based on a local myth, of a naive old woman who fell victim to the pranks of her fellow citizens and was lead to believe that the president of America, Wilson (1913-1921), was going to marry her.
It’s a game played by the crew members. They are given hints and visit different locations in the city until they find the treasure and win the prize. Unless you have a ride, don’t participate, it’s suicide.
People throwing chocolates. Just that… JUST THAT!!!!
Also called the ‘little’ parade. Hundreds of children in their costumes join a parade along with their parents. They dance to the music or board one of the floats and lazily wave at the crowd…. (my parents never let me go when I was young…..). The little parade happens a week before the end of carnival.
Floats designed by the city’s artistic workshop have their own time in the spotlight the last Friday night before the ending ceremony. They usually feature satyrical themes such as …..wait for it…… politicians! What else?
The Saturday night parade is the biggest and most important of all (Note that Patras has the biggest parades in the country 😛 ). You see people flocking downtown in large masses, only stopping to take a selfie or two with their friends. The center gets closed down so cars won’t enter and everyone is able to roam the streets freely. Colorful and creepy costumes flood the place, as everyone is striving to look unique. It’s a great opportunity for otakus to cosplay without getting any odd stares (ok, I take that back, I got a lot of odd stares 😛 ). It’s also not strange if a person completely unknown to you comes to chat or ask for a picture with you because, clearly, your cosplay is so awesome (it’s not like I’m bragging about myself here….). Alcohol is abundant and so are whistles and all kinds of trinkets that make noise. If you’re an old man living downtown, don’t even consider sleeping. Partying lasts until morning 😉
I don’t really get why they still call the Sunday parade ‘big’… It’s much smaller that that of the previous night for one simple reason: hangovers!
Even so, it’s still pleasant to watch or take part in, whatever you prefer.
The ending of the carnival period is signaled with the burning of a large gag-statue, the Carnival King. Every year, the artistic workshop makes a different King to be burnt, although it’s usually a famous (and hated) person…like……. wait for it….. a politician! What else? Once the King is on fire, there’s another fireworks display. And after that, it’s all over. See you next year!
In between the major events, lots of others are being held like plays, concerts etc.
THE GOOD SIDE
Carnival, unlike the western Halloween, lasts for a long period of time, allowing people to live it to the fullest and take part in more events that they can count. You can look however you like and really be yourself without a care in the world. It’s also a huge financial relief to the city since tons of tourists come to visit.
THE BAD SIDE
Obviously, all big events have their downsides. The night parade especially, can be quite dangerous. Lots of people means lots of perverts as well. Stick close to your group! And, for God’s sake, when will people realise you can have fun without getting drunk? The 2-3 months after carnival are the ones when the majority of abortions take place….. guess why…
Carnival is something I both love and hate at the same time. I love the freedom it gives you but I hate noise and crowded streets. Still, if anyone asked me when is the best period to visit the country, I’d definately choose this (summer sucks). As long as you’re careful, it can be a most joyous experience.
Stay safe and happy!
Evil Bunny, signing off~