The various carnival traditions and customs around Greece are an excellent opportunity to visit towns and places you would otherwise pass by. This is a time of joy and exhilaration, where masqueraders of all ages make fun of their daily reality and routine while dancing and having fun till the early morning hours. Dating back to antiquity and the worship of ancient god Bacchus, or Dionysus- the god of wine, and celebration in the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Greek carnival bears also influences from the times of the Ottoman occupation, which make it even more unique in its kind.
Parades, music festivals, masquerade, fancy costumes, dancing and colors all make up three weeks of celebrations in Greek towns that attract people with the promise of an escape from their daily lives and a chance of virtually condemning everything that makes them frustrated and oppressed.
The Patras Carnival, Patrino karnavali, is the largest event of its kind in Greece and one of the biggest in Europe. The people of Patras work all year long to prepare for each year’s celebrations. It has some 180 years of history. The events always begin on January 17 and last up to Clean Monday. The carnival of Patras is not a single event, but a variety of events that include balls, parades, hunting of the hidden treasure, kids’ carnival etc. Its apogee is in the last weekend of the Carnival with the Saturday evening parade of carnival groups, the extravagant Sunday parade of floats and groups, and finally the ritual burning of king carnival at the St. Nikolaos Street wharf in the harbor of Patras. The Patras Carnival is a mix of spontaneity, improvisation, inspiration and volunteerism.
On Clean Monday the Carnival of Galaxidi celebrations culminate with a different kind of war taking place at the small town’s port. Flour turns into a messy weapon in the hands of the locals and residents participating in the “war” with no one leaving the port unscathed or clean. Legend has it that this custom survives from days back when Galaxidi was a prominent and thriving city due to its maritime industry. Sailors are said to have established the flour-war custom. The town is by the sea and is praised for its natural beauties and glorious historic past, while it is in close distance to the archaeological site of Delphi.
Xanthi’s Carnival is the biggest festival of Northern Greece and has been taking place yearly since 1926. Approximately 20,000 visitors go there every year to get a taste of fun, imagination, creativity and music. Among other common Carnival celebrations and games, Xanthi’s carnival participants burn the King of the Carnival on the Kosinthos river waters, while children have to grab a piece of the kris pudding pie with their mouths (their hands are tied behind their backs) before joining the celebrations. Moreover, there is the famous Baldafun, which is actually a disco club just for kids, who eagerly wait for it all year. This year the Thracian Folk Festival-Xanthian Carnival completes 47 years of life and will be even more lively than before in hope of fighting the gloominess of the currently harsh economic times.
The Carnival in Skyros island is traditionally unique with the participants reviving the old custom of the goat or Tragos (in Greek). Dressed as “geros” (old man – geroi in the plural) and korella (girl – korelles in the plural) the men try to make as much noise as possible with the goat bells attached to their belts. The geros’ face is covered by goat skin and he wears a black cape and white trousers. The goat bells around his waist may weigh up to 50 kilos and he must use his walking stick to resemble the walking of an old man. The korella (a man dressed as a woman) on the other hand is dressed in white and also has her face covered. The girl must help the old man sit down when he gets tired, sing to him, and help him walk through the crowded streets.