The season period of Aporkia (the carnival) for all the Orthodox and Catholic Christianity officially starts three weeks before the Great Lent, which leads to the Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and ends with the clean Monday. Apokria comes from the mesh of two words in a ancient Greek form which roughly translates to fasting from meat, as during the Great Lent all faithful are obliged to abstain from various types of food, and mostly from any kind of meat, in order to relate to their Lord's passion.
The feast of Apokria, the carnival, comprises a joyful, full of songs and dances period where all Greeks party and roister while being disguised in any possible way you may imagine. Although the celebrations following the carnival are deeply religious in a sad, introspective and reviving context, the celebration of Apokria relates and originates to the activities that were being held for the worship of the ancient Greek god Dionysus; the god of wine, ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy. Thus, during this period roughly all places around Greece host and participate in this continuous period of partying, while a great variety of happenings, revelries and carnival events take place in the streets, bars, clubs and houses.
Each part of Greece features its own customs regarding their very own carnival costumes, songs, celebrations and disguise facades & masks, some of them of great craftsmanship and rare materials. And Crete could not be an exception. In fact, the island has started to comprise a great carnival destination even for travelers outside the Greek boarders who come to the island for its unique customs, the world-famous hospitality of the locals and the creative and festive spirit of the period.
Many Cretan villages retain their traditional carnival customs that are being revived through that period, offering a unique life experience for everyone participating even as a spectator to any of these. Gergeli and Siva villages at Heraklion, less than an hour and half-hour from Creta Beach Hotel & Bungalows respectively, and other smaller and bigger towns in Rethymno and Chania comprise such destinations with special disguise creations, activities and folklore events.
The Siviani Mask
At the village of Siva, located at the northern part of Heraklion, the mask of Siviani comprise the mastery product of the local craftsmen. The mask is created with roots of the cactus-plant agave (the “Immortal” according to the inhabitants) and it was considered as one of the most impressive and unique carnival masks in the Mediterranean during the 60s! A few days before the official start of the carnival period, the locals uprooted the agave plants to start the highly demanding manufacturing process of the Siviani mask which also comprised the “installation” of shiny white teeth at the facade's mouth in order to be visible at night, the time the masqueraders are strolling around the village to intimidate their friends and the present people.
The unsuitable “wedding” and the Lerades custom
In Gergeri, the most unusual, incompatible and unsuitable couple of the village disguise themselves into groom and bride and start walking around the village as married people, “proving” that during the festive period of Apokria anything can happen to anyone!
Furthemore, the most iconic disguise of Cretan people is the Lerades costume. Cretans all over the island tie big bells, mainly coming from the necks of their sheeps, around their waist and wrists. The Arapis (meaning the black man) is the master of the Lerades and he is heavily dressed with black sheepskin leading the others and disconcerting the neighbourhood with the irregular noise of the bells hanging all over their bodies.
A sister custom of the Lerades disguise is the Arapikos dance, taking place mainly at the late hours of wedding ceremonies. After the… departure of the youths, the men of the wedding, one dressed up as a woman and the other dyed in black colour at his face, dance in erotic ways imitating the moves of a couple through the process of their fertilization. The dance is clearly related to the Dionysian activities of fertility at the ancient Greek ages and comprises a traditional Cretan dance during the carnival period in many places of the Island. A more playful and joyful dance of this period is the Zervodexos (translates to left and right dance) and it goes exactly like its name. The lyre artist leads a group of people dancing this spectacular dance to the left and/or to the right by altering high and low tones, which signifies the change of the group's direction. Imagine the laughs and the funny moments when the lyre player guides the dancing audience out of a taverna or towards a wall or a small river!
The carnival period in Greece is a truly interesting and fun experience to take with you back home, with Crete being one of the top destinations for that. Ask the locals to remember and reveal the old, secret customs of their hometowns drinking a shot (probable ten) of raki, become part of their very own celebration and disguise through a mysticism process in a “delirious” aspect of yourself!