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Apokries: Greek Carnival Season Reaches Peak this Weekend

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Greek Carnival floats for Apokries in Patras. Credit: Tony Esopi/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Carnival celebrations in Greece, or “Apokries,” are some of the most beloved traditions in the country.

Celebrated before the period of Great Lent, or “Sarakosti,” begins, Apokries allow revelers to partake in all the food, dance, and celebration they can before the 40-day period of spiritual reflection begins.

During Lent, believers are supposed to reflect on the coming celebration of Easter, as well as the days before it that mark the suffering and death of Jesus.

Therefore, the faithful abstain from eating a variety of foods during Lent, most notably meat — the word “Apokries,” which roughly translates to “abstaining from meat,” comes from this practice.

While Apokries festivities are celebrated in the weeks before Clean Monday, “Kathara Deftera,” the first day of Lent, they culminate in the weekend just before it.

Kathara Deftera falls on Monday, March 7 this year, and on that day families traditionally spend the day outdoors, flying kites and eating traditional foods.

On the weekend before, however, Greeks usually celebrate by dressing up in costumes, partying, and having a parade throughout the streets of their cities. These festivities are accompanied by live music, creative floats, and lots of confetti.

This year, however, large festivities for Apokries have once again been scaled back due to the coronavirus, and parades have been cancelled.

Patras, Naoussa famous for Apokries festivities

The city most famous for its Apokries celebrations is Patras, in the Peloponnese, which has the oldest and one of the largest carnival celebrations in the country. Started in 1870, the annual Patras events include everything from gala balls and parades to children’s events such as treasure hunts and a children’s carnival.

Thousands of locals and visitors gather in Patras each year for the spectacular chariot parade that takes place on Sunday morning and the burning of the Carnival king in the evening before Clean Monday.

Other traditional events for carnival take place every year in cities and towns like Xanthi, Rethymno, Kastoria, Tyrnavos, Volos, and others across Greece.

Dozens of beloved local festivities take place for Apokries across the entire country. However, very few have as deep links with the nation’s ancient and more recent past as the custom of the ”Genitsari and Boules,” or simply ”Boules,” of Naoussa, in northern Greece.

This custom is likely among the oldest Greek traditions which has managed to survive to this very day. For this reason, the Carnival of Naoussa is completely different from all other Greek Carnival festivities.

There, along with the contemporary, popular street parties that take place throughout the two weeks of the Carnival season, the city revives this ancient tradition.

In one of Naoussa’s most visually-striking customs, young unmarried men dress in a traditional costume which includes the Greek fustanella and other clothing bedecked with silver and jewels, while wearing a unique, handmade mask known as a ”Prosopos.”

This incredibly colorful and unforgettable event, which takes place on the first Sunday of the ”Apokria,” is repeated on the second Sunday, as well as on Ash or Clean Monday.

Centuries’ old tradition dictates that only young, unmarried men can become ”Genitsari,” the male players who take part in the dance.

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