Celebrations are never too far away in Greece at any moment in time. Given half a chance Greeks will celebrate just about anything. It’s part of the DNA. Heck, one of the twelve Gods was Dionysus; the god of wine and merriment; it’s the reason people around the world celebrate carnival, or Apokries as they’re called here. The carnival originated in ancient Greece as a way to honor Dionysus. That should tell you all there is to know about this little shindig. And when you get down like Greeks do, then you know you’re in for a treat.
Naturally, one shouldn’t be surprised to find out that the Carnival season is a serious affair. Yes, Rio might be the benchmark, but Patra is no slouch. It is in fact considered, the third most important carnival celebration in the world. And we think it’s about time people started taking notice.
The third biggest city in Greece and one of the biggest student populations team up for one of the biggest hoedowns this side of the Atlantic. It has to be seen to be believed, but we’ll give it a try anyway.
This 180 year tradition starts early in winter, sometime around the middle of January (even though that varies) and culminates in March, thus marking the rebirth of the earth, or spring. The Patra carnival committee selects a king and queen (homecoming anyone?) and preparations begin with all the carnival dance troupes getting started on their floats and costumes. The whole affair lasts for about a month and in between the start and the finish, several events dot the calendar in preparation for the main event on the weekend. One of those is ‘Tsiknopempti’ or burnt Thursday. That consists of a massive open air barbecue being set up all around Greece marking the beginning of lent. That, essentially signals the beginning of the festivities. Because it’s the last day you’re allowed to consume meat, it turns into one giant open air orgy of consumption.
Due to the proximity of Patra to Italy, the vibe is decidedly Venetian, with masks and costumes and loads of fanfare. The main event over the weekend sees the entire city out on the streets parading along the streets on the massive floats. This all ceremoniously comes to an end with the burning of an effigy of the King of the carnival.
In addition to the carnival, there’s the chance for the nippers to partake as well with a children’s carnival. That includes a lot of face painting and getting messy, should you happen to be travelling with kids.
If there’s one tradition that often gets overlooked in Greece, it’s probably the carnival. This beauty’s been flying off radar for too long, and a course correction is needed.