Come and join the party - Carnival in Hydra is the day when everyone lets their hair down for a bit of fun.
Carnival (Αποκριές - Apokriés - 'saying goodbye to meat')
The Sunday of the Carnival Parade this year was bright and sunny bringing larger than normal crowds out for a fun walk about the island. From Votis Square in the centre of Hydra Town, everyone started gathering at 2.30 with lots of noise and excited chatter accompanied by music from our excellent musicians that got everyone jigging. Our adorable Carnival Donkey was 'wire for sound' and waited patiently for Spyros to be helped into the massive 'head' that traditionally leads the parade. At 3 o'clock, Mayor George Koukoudakis marshalled everyone into order and the parade set off.
The first stop was the Hydra Language School (just above Four Corners) where everyone was welcomed by Sotiris, Kiki and the School Team. After refuelling with refreshments, the occasion and excellent music ensured lots of dancing that everyone enjoyed so much that the music had to be switched off and everyone had to be reminded that the parade had to go on!
From the school, the parade made its way down to Four Corners then turned into Hilary Square heading inland to Kamini. Yet more people joined the parade here as we headed down to the Supermarket and Pirofani square for some more refreshments. Happily, the Carnival Donkey also got a break and thoroughly enjoyed munching on some lovely fresh weeds.
Late lunchers were ready with their cameras as the parade passed Christina's Taverna and then it was on to the Kodylenia Taverna at Kamini Harbour. Dimitris and Eleni were ready with crazy spray, streamers and drinks for everyone. And the Kodylenia guests enjoyed the ten-minute invasion of dancing carnival goers.
The parade got a little strung out by the time it reached Avlaki and stopped at Spilia for everyone to catch up to enter the harbour together at about 4.30.
After some dancing and yet more photos in the centre of the port, the parade moved further along to the East corner of the harbour, where the municipality had food and drink for everyone. The star of this year's music was Vangelis Konitopoulos and his traditional band which was fantastic.
I confess that by six, I was in dire need of a strong hot cup of tea and I headed home but the sound of party goers, singing, music and occasional loud bangs followed me up the hill. The background noise was still apparent at 11 so it's safe to assume that everyone was still enjoying themselves until the early hours.
Quite aside from the weather being sunny and favourable, I think there are many people who need to be thanked for organising the best Carnival on Hydra for years. Municipality's carnival committee including the technicians and the people who look after the costumes and Spyros for wearing the head! Sotiris & Kiki of the Language School, the Kamini Supermarket, Dimitris & Eleni of the Kodylenia Taverna, Chris and the musicians, everyone who helped to make the food for the end of parade party and finally Vangelis and his musicians for accepting the Mayor's invitation to play for us. It was a fantastic day!
The Greek 'Apokries' means 'Carnival' and the literal translation of the Greek word is 'Apoxh apo kreas', which means 'Goodbye to meat'. This is the same for the Latin word 'Carnival' which means 'Meat (carne) goodbye (vale)!'
It was essentially a pagan celebration at the beginning of spring, with emphasis on fertility. In the Roman and Byzantine period, the carnival was marked as a tribute to the magical qualities of nature. However, it has been linked to the worship of the ancient God, Dionysos, the God of Wine and Feast. Therefore, there is no coincidence in the fact that Apokries is always just before the start of Lent. As in all carnivals, fancy dress is worn with everyone parading their costumes along the carnival route and through the town.
As the dates for the Greek Orthodox Paska (Easter) change annually, so do the dates for Lent, and so therefore, the dates for Apokries. Lent begins 7 weeks before Paska and is still observed as a period of fasting from animal produce and oil by many Greeks. The last main Carnival day is always held on the Sunday before Shrove Monday ('Clean Monday' or 'Kathari Dheftéra') a last fling as it were, before Lent starts.
The main event in Hydra is the carnival parade on the Sunday. The parade starts from Votsi Square in front of the Hydroussa Hotel at about 14:30 and starts walking the route at about 15:00. A very patient, unflappable mule carries a music system plus a couple of speakers attached to the top of a pole which is tied upright on the saddle. This set up provides music to accompany the parade all along the route. Amazingly it's never been known to fail!
The horsemen lead the parade, then the 'music mule', which in turn is followed by 'The Big Head'. I've never managed to find out the significance of 'The Big Head' but it puts in an appearance every year without fail. It's a cumbersome, papier-mâché head that's about a half meter in diameter, painted with a face using a rather sickly pink tone for the skin. The 'Head' wears a hat and whomever it is underneath, is hidden by fabric styled as a dress. It really is a very heavy, large costume that usually means that it has to be accompanied to help get it up and down the steps!
The 'Carnival Couple' are different people each year, always two men one of whom dresses in drag and they quite often brandish grotesquely phallic vegetables - it's very easy to see the fertility message with these two! And everyone else follows on.
First the parade walks up Lignou Street (aka Donkey Shit Lane), then, right at the Old High School, passing the Four Corners Supermarket, when there is a pause for refreshments and a dance in Hillary Square when more people join the parade.
From Hillary Square, the parade continues down into Kamini Harbour, collecting more carnival-goers along the way. There's another stop for refreshments outside the Pirofani Square before turning right towards upper Kamini. From this point, the weather seems to dictate the rest of the route. If it's miserable, it takes the shortest route back to town, but if it's sunny (well, not raining), the longer route can be taken.
The parade finishes at the harbour with those who haven't been in the parade, lining the harbour front to applaud as the parade arrives. Music is set up for dancing and everyone poses for photographs.
While parties take place at many of the tavernas, the main one is held at Xeri Elia (Douskos) Taverna.
Everyone is welcome to the carnival in Ydra, whether they have a fancy dress costume or not. But it's so much more fun if you do dress up!
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