Apokries, the Greek Carnival

Apokries, the world literally means “no more meat”, is the celebration of carnival in Greece. The characteristic of carnival is disguising and wearing costumes and masks that offer anonymity and freedom of expression. Although typically associated with the traditions of the Orthodox church, the festivities date back to Ancient Greek times, when feasts were organized to honor Dionysus, god of wine, fun and fertility, and they were a celebration of spring and nature”s rebirth.
In our days, Carnival lasts the three weeks before the beginning of Lent, and is a huge, colorful celebration. One of the highest points of the season is Tsikonopemti, which means “Thursday of the Smoke of Grilled Meat”. Since the week before Lent is considered meat-free (but not dairy-free), and Wednesday and Friday are generally considered days of fasting in the Greek-Orthodox Christian tradition, this makes Tsiknopempti one of the last opportunities for people to eat meat. Greeks celebrate by taking to the streets and set up grills in central squares with music and festivities. The lent begins on Clean Monday and is celebrated with outdoor excursions, the consumption of shellfish and other fasting food, and the widespread custom of flying kites. The biggest carnival that is organized in Greece is that of Patras and some of the most interesting take place in Naxos, Skyros and Naoussa.collage-apokriesIn Naxos, the birthplace of Dionysus, the festivities start at the first Saturday of Apokries with choirosphagia (killing of the pig) and conclude at the last Sunday, when in the mountain villages, such as Apiranthos, Filoti and Koronos, the bell-clad, hooded “unati” create a deafening noise in the alleys of the village meant to drive the evil spirits away and welcome spring.
The Sporades island of Skyros is no exception to the rule of continuing age-old tradition. Here,masquerade and merriment stem from the folklore of the “geros”(old man) and “korela”(girl). Men play the role of the “geros” and wear a thick black cloak, white trousers, waist belt of goat bells (weighing in at around 50 kilos) and a hanging goatskin to cover their faces. Jumping around and waving their wooden sticks, they are accompanied by the veiled “korela” the island girls or Skyrian brides dressed in white and yellow waving a scarf to lead the way.
In Naoussa, the central element is the custom of “Boules” which incorporates the local tradition, the myths, the legends,the songs and the heroic fights of the local people. Contrary to the “disarray” that prevails during Carnival, the custom of Naoussa is characterized by discipline and standardized and exceptional aesthetic appearance of the participants.

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