All over Greece, the three-week 'Apokries' leading up to Lent is a time for fun and celebration. This year, as always, Marpissa area residents put on an impressive show on the last day of the carnival period - the Sunday known as 'cheese-eating Sunday'. This is the day before 'Clean Monday' which is the first day of Lenten fasting. The Municipality of Paros also organized a carnival costume parade and celebration the previous week.
It is believed that the carnival tradition developed in ancient Greece from pagan rites in honour of Dionysus, the God of wine, and has subsequently been enhanced over the centuries by influences and customs from abroad. The original purpose was as a Spring ritual to ensure fertility in the breeding of the animals and bountiful crops and a good harvest later in the year.
Though local traditions vary, many of the festivities have customs and themes in common.
'Tsiknopempti', the second Thursday of the carnival season, is a day of meat-eating ('tsikna' means the smell of burnt meat, 'pempti' is from the Greek for Thursday) and most tavernas and restaurants will be crowded as many Greek people go out to celebrate on this night.
A common theme of carnival parades is the 'Holy Wedding'. This may take different forms, but usually involves a mix-up of the sexes - with the bride being a man (most often bearded) and the groom a woman. Often someone will also play the role of a demon taking part in the ceremony and trying to spoil the wedding. Throughout these ceremonies villagers will shout obscenities and make fun of one another.
The pagan celebrations involved participants dressing up as animals or as members of the opposite sex and going around the neighbourhood making fun of everyone - much as often happens today when masked and costumed visitors may appear at your door without warning during the time of the Apokries.
All of these festivities give us the opportunity to have a little fun after the long winter months and at the same time represent the renewal, rejuvenation, energy and excitement of Spring.