Apokries in Skyros – A Colorfull Explosion Of Joy!
Although typically associated with the traditions of the Orthodox church, the festivities date back to Ancient Greek times, when feasts were organised to honour Dionysus, god of wine, fun and fertility, and they were a celebration of spring and nature”s rebirth.
40 days before the beginning of Lent, Apokries begins on a Saturday evening with the opening of the Triodion, a book containing three sacred odes. This is a religious moment not generally observed outside of the church itself, not as a part of the party.
The Friday, Saturday, and Sunday preceding “Clean Monday” usually offer vigorous parties, parades, and traditional events.
The last Sunday of the Carnival period is known as “Cheese-eating Sunday” or Tyrofagos as no meat products are allowed at this time. Macaroni is often served on this day. Surprisingly enough, the word “macaroni” is not Italian, but comes from the Greek words macaria or “blessed”, and aeronia or “eternal”. Thus, “macaroni”. The preceding day, Saturday is a special service for the dead in Orthodox churches, and part of the rites includes the making of grain dishes, probably a survival of the ancient rites of Demeter. Thus, “macaroni”.
“Clean Monday” or Kathari Deftera, is the actually the first day of Lent (Sarakosti). While a holiday atmosphere still prevails, the foods consumed are all “pure”, without the shedding of blood. But this allows cuttlefish and squid, fish roe, and other items. “Lagana” is a flatbread traditionally served on this day.
There’s a sound that reverberates through Skyros town during the ‘Apokries’ Carnival season that you will never forget. It clangs and rumbles and bounces by, hiding in the side streets before emerging again, louder, as if its force has doubled. It’s an echoing chime that makes you either stop in your tracks or inquisitively follow…
In the weeks leading up to the 40-day fasting period before the Greek Orthodox Easter, whole Skyros come alive with grand celebrations.
But you must know that Apokries in Skyros is the most unique.
See the masquerade and merriment stem from the folklore of the ‘geros’ and ‘korela’.
Men play the role of the ‘geros’ and wear a furry black cape, white trousers, waist belt of goat bells (weighing in at around 50 kilos) and a hanging goatskin to cover their faces. Jumping around and waving their wooden sticks.
They are accompanied by the veiled ‘korela’ – the island girls or Skyrian brides – dressed in white and yellow waving a scarf to lead the way (some men dress this part too).
For weeks, these figures can be seen strolling the streets and piercing the still air with the clatter as soon as evening sets in. But on the last weekend before what is known as ‘Clean Monday’ (‘Ash Monday’ or the first day of Lent), the Carnival becomes a true spectacle.
Starting from the castle at the very top of the hill in the early evening on the Saturday, dozens of these traditional figures paraded down through the main street that winds through the quiet neighbourhoods of Skyros town.
The town is heaving with people awaiting the final performance, filling bars and restaurants, pavements and balconies.
And while the goat men are laid to rest for another year, the playfulness continues until the final day when satirical performances known as the ‘Trata’ take place.
These comical performances poke fun at topical issues, society, the island’s Mayor and innocent bystanders. Even if you don’t understand, it’s fun to join the energetic crowds, sip alcohol from the cups hanging around their necks and rejoice with them in what is undoubtedly one of the happiest times of the year.
This festival is a remnant of older Dionysian festivals celebrating the God of Wine and ecstasy(to name a few of His attributes).It is celebrated in the Spring to celebrate His rebirth.The Geros represent Dionysos priest and the Korela are His maenads.It is just like the ancient Lupercalia.