Carnival In Crete, History and Tradition / Video

( Video from Rethymno Carnival Parade )

The Greek Carnival, From History to Modernity

 The Greeks, inheritors of an ancient legacy, weave their lives around timeless values. These cherished principles—the interconnectedness of people and nature, religious devotion, and patriotism—form the bedrock of their existence. Rooted in the Christian-Orthodox faith, these values are celebrated with unwavering national pride.

 The conservative yet vibrant Greek nation boasts a calendar teeming with both secular and religious holidays. Many of these celebrations trace their origins to antiquity. Imagine the grandeur of ancient festivals dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine, theater, and pleasure. These gatherings featured banquets, music, dance, and artistic performances—a testament to the Greeks’ zest for life.

 Centuries later, echoes of history resound. The Venetian-inspired medieval carnival, with its masked revelry, still lingers in the collective memory. Yet, alongside exuberance, the Greeks honor their faith with solemnity. Orthodox rituals and festivals punctuate the year, connecting generations to their spiritual heritage.

 As winter wanes and spring tiptoes in, the Greeks embrace Apokries, affectionately known as “The Carnival.” This festive period aligns with both the astronomical calendar—the rebirth of nature—and the Christian-Orthodox Easter. Streets come alive with masquerades, music, and merriment. It’s a time when joy dances hand in hand with tradition.

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

 Apokries or Karnavali is a traditional preparation period for Lent in the Greek Orthodox faith. It begins in early March and lasts for three weeks. During this time, it is encouraged for families to abstain from heavy foods and parties. The first week of the carnival is called “Prophonis” and is the week in which it is announced that Apokries has begun. The second week is referred to as “Kreatini” or “Meat Week” as it is the last week in which meat is allowed to be eaten. The third week is known as “Tyrini” or “Tyrofagou”, or “Cheese Week” since this is the week in which only dairy products are permitted. The abstinence from meat and dairy continues until the eve of Lent.

 Cities and villages host many private and public events, such as parties, festivities, and masquerades, organized by schools, companies, and cultural institutions. Also, dance, music, and theater performances can take place in parks, on the streets, and in city squares. They are a great way to bring people together and showcase Cretan culture and traditions by engaging locals and tourists alike.

 Even for modern society, the end of winter with the welcoming of spring is an important time of the year. "Apokries" is a traditional festival closely related to the astronomical calendar and essentially with the birth of nature and the beginning of a new agricultural year, as well as with the Christian Orthodox Easter calendar.

 Music, entertainment, and plenty of food are all part of the Apokries festival. In the second week, when abstinence from meat begins, Greeks celebrate Tsiknopemti (Barbecue Thursday - "tsikno" means barbecue haze, "pemti" is Thursday). Families, friends, and neighbors celebrate this day by grilling skewers ("souvlaki") in the courtyards, streets, or on terraces of taverns with music on loudspeakers or live. 

 In Heraklion, the Tsiknopempti festival runs until late at night, ending with a glamorous dance show of schools and amateur teams in the center of the city.

The Carnival Parade, a Spectacular Street Production 

 Apokries culminates with the Grand Carnival Parade, which cheerfully, colorfully, and noisily concludes the three weeks of festivities. The parade usually takes place on the last Sunday of Apokries, in the main city squares of towns and villages in Crete.

 Friends and colleagues form crews and decide what theme they want to represent at the parade. Creating the fleet concept and costumes can take several months. Each group invites other members to join because the most original and numerous team is awarded at the end.

 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 the civic center. To encourage tourists and visitors, admission is free, and for managing the influx of people and cars, guided access routes and additionally 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. You can find more about Rethymno Carnival on the official website of the event. 

 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.

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

 The carnival show concludes across Greece with one of Greece’s most important feast days – Kathara Deftera – which symbolizes a fresh start after the carnival extravagance. Literally translated as “Clean Monday” ("kathara" = clean, “deftera”= Monday), this day begins the "Sarakosti" (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, picnicking 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 like to have some fun, Crete is one of the best wintertime 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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