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')
Text & photos by Kelsey Edwards
Copyright HydraDirect 2016
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!
Click the first thumbnail image to start the slide show.
Next Year: Carnival is on Sunday 26th FEBRUARY 2017.