Carnival In Crete, History and Tradition / Video

( Video from Rethymno Carnival Parade )

The Tradition of Greek Carnival, From History to Modernity

 The Greeks are the legatee of a patriarchal culture and lifestyle in which traditions and holidays reflect immortal values, such as the symbiosis of people with nature and its cycles, religious feelings and the Christian-Orthodox faith, and, not least, patriotism and national pride.

 Conservatives but equally creative and party-lovers, the inhabitants of Crete have gathered, throughout history, a rich calendar of secular and religious holidays, many of them, with origins and meanings that are barely known, nowadays. From the ancient feasts under the patronage of Dionyssos - the god of wine, theater, festivals, and pleasure - honored with banquets, dance, music, and sports and artistic representations, to the Middle Ages’ colorful masquerades, parades, and carnivals of Venetian inspiration, and finally, to the sober and godly Orthodox rituals and feasts, all are found today in the way Cretans know how to celebrate life and its major events.

 Even for modern society, the end of winter and the welcome of spring is one of the important periods of the year. The traditional festival called "Apokries"- ”The Carnival” is closely linked to the astronomical calendar and, essentially, to the rebirth of nature and the beginning of a new agricultural year, and to the religious calendar - Christian-Orthodox Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“Apokries” or ”Karnavali”, Three Weeks of Street Festivities

 In the local Orthodox tradition, in early March, for three weeks until the Easter Lent, the feast of "Apokries / Karnavali" takes place (in the Greek language "apoxh apo kreas"/ in Latin "carnem levare" meaning "removal of meat"). This is a period of preparation for Lent that follows, requiring 10 weeks of abstinence from heavy food and parties. The first week of the carnival is called "Prophonis" when it is announced that Apokries has started and families are stocking up for this period. The second week is called "Kreatini" (Meat Week), the last in which meat is consumed. The third week is called "Tyrini" or "Tyrofagou" (Cheese Week) in which only dairy products are eaten, until the eve of Lent.

 During this time, a lot of private or public events - parties, festivities or masquerades, organized by schools, companies, and cultural institutions, especially addressed to families and children - take place in cities and villages. With the support of the local administrations, various competitions, workshops, exhibitions, and dance, music, and theater performances are held on the streets, in the parks and city squares, involving the locals, from young to old, and arousing the curiosity and admiration of the tourists.

 Apokries is a vibrant festival of music, entertainment, and plenty of food. In the second week, when according to the Orthodox tradition, the abstention from meat begins, the Greeks celebrate the tasty "Tsiknopemti", the Barbecue or Charred Thursday ("tsikno" means the smell of barbecue fume, "pemti" is Thursday). This is a day of feast with family, friends, and neighbors, in which grills with skewers ("souvlaki") sizzle through the courtyards, on the streets, or on the terrace of the taverns, usually accompanied by music from speakers or live concerts. Tsiknopemti continues until late at night with a glamorous spectacle offered by dance schools and bands of young amateur dancers, on a stage in the main square.

The Carnival Parade, a Spectacular Street Production 

 In this context, Apokries culminates with the Grand Carnival Parade, which cheerfully, colorfully, and noisily concludes the three-week period of festivities. This takes place on the penultimate or last day of Sunday, in most of the major cities of Greece and Crete.

 In preparation for the parade, groups of friends and colleagues gather to form crews and decide on the theme they want to represent. Brainstorming for the fleet concept followed by the creation of costumes, figurines, and funny mascots can take several months. On the online page of the event, since January, each group invites other members to join, because at the end of the parade the most original and numerous team is awarded. (

 Dedicated to the spirit of this traditional holiday, the Municipalities of the cities do their best to organize the program of festivities, which include the march of the participants, MCs, entertainers, music, and other fun activities, on the pedestrianized arteries and in the civic center. To encourage tourists and visitors, admission is free, and for managing the influx of people and cars, guided access routes and additional free of charge parking are prepared, in advance.

 Cretan carnivals are usually held in Souda, Paleochora, Kalyves, Kastelli / Kissamos, Malia, and Heraklion, but the most famous is the Rethymnon Carnival, a spectacular "production" of choreography and sound, stories, and characters, with obvious Venetian influence. We, ourselves, Daily Crete, had the joy of participating in this adventure in Rethymno, leaving us fascinated and amused by the spirit of the carnival, losing our footsteps among the dozens of allegorical floats and thousands of costumed people, wandering cheerfully through the streets, dancing, posing and playing pranks. It is our pleasure to share with you our visual reportage about Rethymno Carnival, here.

"Kathari Deftera"-The Religious Day of Purity and Beginning of the Spring

 The carnival show concludes across Crete with one of Greece’s most important feast days – ”Kathari Deftera” – which symbolizes a fresh start after the carnival extravagance. Literally translated as “Clean Monday” ("katharos" = clean, “deftera”= Monday), this day begins the "Sarakosti" (the Lent) during which, for 7 weeks until the Orthodox Easter Sunday, no meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, or oil are consumed. The spiritual significance of the day is the purifying of the body and soul, inviting everyone to direct their way of life to holiness, balance, and wisdom and to practice fasting with clean hearts and good thoughts.

 Celebrating the arrival of spring, the Cretans dedicate this day to outdoor family activities: hiking on the mountain or walking on the beach, picnic with traditional vegetarian delights next to some of the most popular seafood, the widespread custom of flying kite, and free concerts, offered by the local artists and music bands.

 Needless to say, if you find yourself in Greece in wintertime and you like to have some fun, Crete is one of the best destinations! Just wear your fancy robes, masks, or funniest costumes, wander through the streets, mingle with the locals, get in tune with their cheerful vibes, and surrender to the spirit of the Carnival!

 Enjoy our  PHOTO ALBUM  from the Carnival Of Rethymno!

 Καλές Απόκριες! / Kales Apokries!

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