Carnival is celebrated every year with various festivities throughout Greece. It takes place in the period before Lent, which gives the opportunity to everybody to have fun before fasting, something that of course requires more timid and restrained behaviour. During the last three days of Carnival, various events take place everywhere, some of which are widely known, like, for example, the parades of floats and masquerades, while others are seen exclusively in certain places; which of course makes them all the more interesting. In the wider area of Messinia we stumble upon many of these, where locals and visitors participate in the festivities.
The Carnival celebrations in Messini start from Tsiknopempti (the second Thursday before Ash Monday), with a traditional taverna installed on a float, which meanders around town, offering kebabs and wine. On the morning of Ash Monday, in the location Kremala, the locals hold the re-enactment of the hanging of the old lady Sykou, which is said to be a true-life incident of the 18th century that goes as follows. Ibrahim was once camped in Messini and one night he had a bad dream. Alarmed as he was, he requested someone to interpret it for him. This is how Sykou came before him and told him that bad things would happen to him and his army, and that he would suffer a bad defeat from the Greeks. Ibrahim got so furious that he ordered his men to hang the old lady. For the re-enactment of the incident, a stage is used, where the actors play out the drama of Sykou, while the audience can also participate. In order to get away from the “executioners” and avoid being hanged, they have to bribe them. On the evening of Ash Monday in the main square we see King Carnival, accompanied by floats, masquerades and musicians. He delivers his satirical speech and then prompts people to dance, sing and have fun.
Methoni – “Tou Koutrouli o Gamos” (the Wedding of Koutroulis)
“Tou Koutrouli o Gamos” is a Greek expression, which basically means “a cheerful social gathering” with comic and humorous moments. What very few people know is that Koutroulis was actually a real person living in Methoni, who went through a great deal before getting married to the woman he loved. Nowadays, during Carnival, the locals revive this famous wedding in the square located near the beach, with feasts and events that last for 3 days.
Methoni – “Tou Koutrouli o Gamos” (the Wedding of Koutroulis) (long)
Carnival is celebrated throughout Greece with many festivities, events and customs -usually cheerful and humorous. In Methoni, Carnival is synonymous with the famous “Tou Koutrouli o Gamos”; a tradition based on a real event.
Ioannis Koutroulis was a knight from Methoni who had an affair with a married woman, because the Church refused to grant her a divorce from her husband. Their affair lasted for 17 years and was marked by plenty of bad commentary and personal attacks on the couple, since the society of the 14th century thought of this not only as illegal, but also as scandalous. Finally, the woman got her divorce in 1394 by the Bishop of Methoni and she was finally allowed to marry Koutroulis. This wedding, as expected, was a particularly important event, both because the couple had suffered for such a long time, and because their affair was known. This is why it was gloriously celebrated and it is said that it lasted for several days.
From the period of the Turkish occupation and onwards, when the locals decided to celebrate Carnival and Lent, they also decided to revive “Tou Koutrouli o Gamos”, which takes place on Ash Monday at 1pm in the square by the beach. This parody is accompanied by many humorous and satirical events. The festivities start on Saturday night, with a premarital celebration that lasts until the wee hours of the morning. The night is filled with food, dancing and many surprises that friends plan for the couple. On Sunday at 6pm, they sprinkle the dowry and the bridal bed and then everybody gathers in the pedestrian area, where pork, toasted bread and wine are offered. Ash Monday is the day of the wedding, and it is preceded by a float parade. After the wedding, the attendees are offered meatless delicacies and wine and the festivities continue.
Nedousa is a village in the region of Alagonia, where on Ash Monday they revive a tradition, the origins of which date back to ancient times. It belongs to the events of the so-called “euetiria” (eu meaning good and etos, meaning year), which related to fertility in nature, and aimed to bring a good year with a rich harvest. The attendees wander around in goat costumes, heavy bells on their necks and smeared faces. This is followed by agermos, during which the entire troupe goes from door to door giving warm greetings and collecting delicacies which will be eaten later by all. Then they hold the dance of the goats and the so called arotriosi, which is the re-enactment of the plowing of the land. The events continue with the “wedding”, which symbolizes reproduction, and then the funeral and the resurrection, which clearly refer to nature’s rebirth, after the “death” of winter. Then, everybody eats, drinks and dances to the sounds of folk music from traditional instruments, like the tabor and flute.
A very special tradition took place in Pylos until recently. Unfortunately, however, it has gradually died out. It was known as the custom of Makaronas, a dummy made of straw dressed in regular human clothes. On the eve of Ash Monday, everybody would gather in the main square of Pylos, where Makaronas is being tried. The charge was that he had eaten all the pasta of Pylos, leaving the people starving! Unfortunately, Makaronas is always guilty and his sentence is always to be burned at the stake.