Every year for the last 160 or so years, Avliotes has been holding a carnival to bring some joy to the long sullen winter and make fun of life’s ‘slings and arrows’. The day this occurs is on ‘Kathari Deftera’, Clean Monday which is the first day of lent in the Greek Orthodox church. This day falls 7 weeks before Greek Easter. The period of 4 days before ‘Clean Monday’ are filled with lively parties, parades, and other traditional festivities wherever Carnivals in Corfu are celebrated.
Most people would never associate the Greeks with carnival but in truth they invented it!… Yes, I know what you are thinking, ‘not carnival as well!’, but just think about it. Most carnival related festivities are associated with the ancient worship of the Greek god of wine and intoxication, Dionysus. The processions, costuming, and feasting all derive from ancient ceremonies honoring him. The Dionysian rites were based on a seasonal death-rebirth theme and the cleansing of the spirit through intoxication, dance and music to liberate the individual from inhibitions and social constraints.
After carnival , Greeks follow a strict 40 day of fasting plus the final holy week of Easter to prepare the themselves for the celebration of the death and resurrection of the Christ. I have always wondered to myself why such a long period of fasting and tried to answer it without thinking about the religious aspect of the answer. The reason I came up with was more of bare necessity than any spiritual reasoning. Winter can be long and cruel especially in a world without any refrigeration. People needed a time of grace to allow animals to raise their young without the treat of slaughter or else they would be too young to kill.
Our carnival in Avliotes is hosted by the town’s very own inhabitants. All the outlandish costumes are made by the locals and everyone tries to outdo the other in presentation and style sometimes to the point of obscenity. One would think there is much rivalry between the parading groups but in truth there is much camaraderie between everyone! Most of the themes are politically related or something current in the news. The week before we parade through the main street there is a buzz of activity with people planning, groups ironing out their details, while the town is decorated, and carnival music is blasting through the streets. This year, 2012, we had a few topics that concerned themselves with the unjust loans Greece was given. One example to this: Germany would borrow money at a low rate of half a percent then lent it back to Greece for as much a 6 percent. Through similar topics the ordinary town’s people would be able to release their stress and show their displeasure over daily circumstances.
At the end of the parade, there follows the burning of the Karnavalos (King Carnival), which is said to carry all the troubles of the locals. There is a will read which normally contains all the grievances and bad things that have happened during the previous year. The will is normally in couplets and it contains many puns, innuendos and double entendres. The Karnavalos is burnt in a bonfire among great partying and dancing around it.
Of course this signifies the banishment of all our problems and the beginning of life anew… sadly, if it could only be that easy!!