A different type of celebration for New Year’s Day is happening in Argos Orestiko, a town in Northern Greece.
From New Year’s Eve to January 2, the locals wear their carnival costumes and celebrate in an unusual way. Unlike the rest of the cities in Greece, Argos Orestiko celebrates with a carnival during Christmas and especially around New Year’s Day. In fact, this was a custom of western Macedonia in Greece, which had its roots there at the time while the country was enslaved by the Ottomans. In order for people of the area to celebrate freely, they were in disguise — the men dressed as women and vice versa. This celebration kept on for centuries, even after the liberation of the region in 1912, and now it offers unique moments of festivities under the sound of music and, most of the time, with very cold weather.
While people in Argos go from house to house singing traditional carols, in other places of Greece, people simply dress up and celebrate in a typical way. On New Year’s Day at noon, there is a carnival parade on the central street of the town. During the parade, people of Argos are mostly focused on satirizing either political or social matters and not on offering a show. Schools, unions, communities, groups of people who grew up together and even town visitors, who came to witness this spectacular event, participate in the parade.
The third day of the carnival, January 2, is called “Pateritsa” (crutch) and it’s the women’s day when the latter disguise themselves and have fun. While most people think that the carnival of Argos is a custom linked with the god Dionysus because of the wide consumption of wine and the usage of masks, the elder people of the town say that this custom was formed during the Ottoman domination over Greece.
The Ottomans forbade people to go out at night throughout the year, but during Christmas holidays, they were more tolerant and the Greeks found the opportunity to go out in disguise and visit friends and relatives at their homes. They sang and drank and ate all together. Especially during the Macedonian struggle, it is said that during Christmas time, the rebels disguised themselves and exchanged messages with the citizens of Argos.
The most long-running custom was the “Pateritsa,” celebrated on the third day of the festivities when women disguise themselves. The name of the day derives from another era, when women were oppressed. At that time and during January 2, the women of Argos would dress up, cover their faces, so that they could have fun without being bothered. They would hold a crook, or a “crutch,” to defend themselves against the jokes of men. To this day, the women of Argos have fun in every neighborhood until they end up at the central square of the town, all during “Pateritsa” day.
There, at the central square, musicians, playing mostly the clarinet, compete against one another using their instruments, which also include trombones and tabors (drums). During the three-day festivities, Greek folk musicians from all around western Macedonia gather in Argos to join the locals for an extravagant event.
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