A poor Greek woman’s dire need to marry and her humiliation by callous neighbors has created a carnival custom which has lasted for over a century and is celebrated to this day in Patras.
Giannoula Koulourou got her nickname because she was selling koulouria (bagels) in the western port city in the late 19th century. Born in 1868, she lived in the Upper Town and, like most women of her time, wanted to get married and have a family.
Unfortunately, she was not a beauty, and did not have a dowry. In 1914, a group of local men played a cruel trick on her, telling her they had found a man for her to marry.
The prank was so elaborate and convincing that poor Giannoula actually dressed as a bride and walked out on the main streets of Patras to go meet the groom at the church. She was accompanied by a large group of people who were part of the prank.
When the large procession of people arrived at the church for the wedding, there was a groom waiting for her. However, the church was closed and upon the bride’s arrival, some pranksters dressed as military policemen arrested the would-be groom. Giannoula was devastated, her pain unbearable.
But the pranksters did not stop there. A few years later, after World War I, when Giannoula had passed the age of 50, the cruel perpetrators arranged another “wedding” for her.
One version says they convinced her U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had heard about her and wanted to marry her. They said that “Youlso” – as she was calling Wilson – was to arrive by boat at Patras harbor to marry her.
Again, the poor woman wore her wedding dress and, accompanied by many people in on the joke, arrived at the harbor. Of course, there was no American president to disembark.
Another version says the pranksters told Giannoula that on the last day of the carnival a rich Greek-American relative of hers was to arrive at the harbor with a groom for her and a few million dollars. The woman felt humiliated again and broke into tears when she saw there was no ship from America coming.
By the 1930s, Giannoula had become a legend in the city, but now she was too old to believe that she would ever marry. She died poor and alone after the German Occupation, her sad story becoming an urban legend for the people of Patras.
It also became a custom — the “Wedding of Koulourou” — and is part of the Patras Carnival every year.