Monday, February 1, 2010

Carnival time in Corfu begins

Years ago, before I came to Corfu, I fell in love with Venice and spent several days there during Carnival.  One would think that February was not a great time to travel, but it was fantastic.  I loved Venice and the fact that everyone wore costumes every day and there was a marvelous atmosphere of "play" in the air. 

Of course I decided at that point I wanted to live in Venice so I could enjoy Carnival for several weeks instead of just for a one time shot of "mardi gras"!

Then we found Corfu. 

Corfu owes its particular spin on Carnival more to years of history as part of the Venetian Republic. From 1386 to 1797, Corfu was ruled by Venetian nobility.  Still the island is a part of Greece so traditions are lifted from many sources and unique to the island alone.

Mixed in with the wonderful and sometimes wacky view of Carnival is of course the traditional religious overtones of Lent.  Harbored deep underneath all of that though is a long tradition in ancient times of the festivals of Dionysis. 

Friday evening we happened to be downtown and came across a marvelous launching party at the city hall of Carnival on Corfu.

Costumes and masks that would be familiar in Venice are seen on the streets here.  The people in costume pose as well, and they go about their business as if you were invisible. (It's like being inside of a play!)  There are also of course processions and fanfares and marching bands.

For the next three weeks Corfu will be a magical place where children will walk though the downtown wearing masks and capes and brandish plastic swords along side of ghosts and princesses.  It's a much happier and sillier celebration that Halloween ever can be.

small child in San Marco Square Venice- he was so cute I couldn't resist!

In Greek Carnival is called Apokries, referring to Lent and the abstention from eating meat.

Carnival here covers four Sunday's but only on the second (the Sunday of the Prodigal Son), third (couldn't find a name for this one - but I'm sure there is one!) and last are there public celebrations.  The final Sunday (called Tyrofagos or Tyrini - also called Cheese-eating Sunday) is a riot of color and confetti, a grand parade of church and people with the priests and the costumed school children and adults, and floats, all together,  to process along with marching band music and celebration.  At night - weather permitting- is a great fireworks display.

"Tsiknopempti" is the equivalent of Pancake Day and loosely translates as barbecue Thursday.  This is the Thursday of, as it's called in Greece, Meatfare Week.  Tsiknopempti is the evening that everyone is obliged to eat meat because the forty days of Lent are about to start.  Restaurants closed for the season, reopen for this day all over the island and families and friends gather round for a lovely eating and drinking spree usually to the sounds of live music. Wandering musicians play Kantades and Mantolinates in the streets of the old city of Corfu.

In Corfu there is a unique custom called "the Corfiot Petegoletsia" or "Petegolia"on the last Thursday of Carnival.  It translates to Gossip, which is actually related more to the old tradition of street theatre.  In the narrow streets of old town- called "kantounia" lined by ancient houses, women standing in their windows exchange scurrilous gossip about local affairs in an authentic Corfiot dialect.  Nothing is sacred, and everything is funny. (IF you understand the local Corfiot dialect!)  The performance ends with traditional songs and mandolin music. 

The climax of the celebration is the final parade and King Carnival is responsible for whatever bad things happened during the previous year.  He's brought to trial and sentenced to death by fire so all evil spirit are burnt with him.  At the end of the procession king Carnival is cremated, his will is read and a big party, with singing and dancing, begins. 

Finally the day after the excesses of Carnival is called "Clean Monday" (which is also the first day of Lent) The foods allowed must all be "pure" (without shedding blood).  Still this allows cuttlefish and squid and fish roe as well as beans and pulses. "Lagana" is a flat bread traditionally served on this day. 

(I love Clean Monday as, weather permitting, everyone goes to the beach to have a picnic, and fly kites!)

So the important Carnival/Easter dates for this year...

Easter is the same this year for both the Orthodox and the Christian Church.  April 4, 2010.

40 days before the beginning of Lent, Carnival begins on Saturday evening with the opening of the "Triodion", a book containing sacred odes.  This is a religious moment and not usually observed outside of the church (so no party!) Triodion Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tsiknopempti or Burnt Thursday, February 4, 2010.
Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, February 5th through Sunday February 7, 2010
Main Carnival Weekend: Friday February 12th through Sunday February 14, 2010.
Clean Monday (or Ash Monday): February 15
[Ash Wednesday: February 17, 2010.]
Palm Sunday: March 28, 2010.
Maundy (Holy)Thursday: April 1, 2010
Good Friday: April 2, 2010
Easter Sunday April 4, 2010.

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  1. love the idea of being inside a play ! fabulous post as ever

  2. Love your post...very good. Can you believe that I didn't realize how early carnival was this year, until this week? I'm losing it.
    I love all the photos Jes. Again, great post! :)

  3. I love the colorful, cheerful celebrations you find in some parts of the world. We ran into an Easter parade once in Costa Rica, with dancers and a float with flowers and statues of Jesus and Maria and others. All so different from my sober Calvinist Dutch background!

    Enjoy carnival on Corfu! Take pictures!

  4. Lovely post Jes.

    I also fell in love with Venice many years ago and would love to return some day. I particularly enjoyed getting lost in the narrow winding streets. Not lost in a scary way because you always knew that eventually you would end up back in St Marks Square.

    Corfu sounds like it has some of that wonderful Venetian atmosphere too.

  5. Dear Elise,

    I just loved that about Venice. I've been there when it's not Carnival and it still feels like you are on a set for a play or a film. Venice is wonderfully, just that little bit "over the top"...

    Dear Cheryl,

    I too have been out of sync with Carnival. If we wouldn't have been downtown and got caught up in the party, I probably would have missed the weekend "kick off". I know it's because Easter is so early this year.(Next year 2011, it's going to be April 24th!)

    The first three photos (and the little child!) were scanned into my computer from photographs I took when I was wandering the streets of Venice the week before Mardi Gras. I found them the other day and it brought back such great memories.

    Dear Miss Footloose,

    I know what you mean, and I love the colorful careless reverence that goes with so many religious processions! I was raised Catholic and so was surrounded by the pomp and drama of religion- but I love the fun that seems to surround it in warmer climates.

    I'll try and photograph as much as I can! (It's a zoo in town though with all the children's parades. Ultimately, it's trying to find parking that kills you...)

    Dear Ayak,

    Oh I totally agree with you and the windy narrow streets. With no cars anywhere you walk miles, and don't even notice. (I must admit my favorite part was wandering to a point and then taking the water bus to the next stop!)

    One of my best memories was shortly before I left Venice, I was caught in a "people traffic jam" in in the Dosodoro section of Venice.

    The objective was to cross over a bridge to get on the San Marco side of the water, but there were so many people trying to cross over the bridge, it turned into a knot, and everything trickled to almost a standstill.

    The police came out and started to "direct" traffic, to get all the people untangled and flowing again! And it worked!

    As I had been staying in Venice for almost a week, I discovered what the people who live there do to cross the canals when it's busy... they take a "taxi" gondola, near to the bridge, which you step onto and ride standing up and fits about 8 people on for about $5. per person. Crossing the canal took about 5 minutes. Walking took 1 hour. (finding the gondola stand took forever!)

  6. Bravo you - the first complete listing of when everything is this year. I have been searching and searching for some precise dates - everyone had a different idea of when what etc - and you are the first to come out with the facts. Even the tourist literature blathers on about the 40 days after this, the sunday after that, 2 weeks between that blah blah, but none has had the guts to spell it out. ^5

  7. Dear Busker,

    You have NO idea... It was a full day of research on my part! (honest!) I wrote this with my own knowledge of living here over then years AND seven different articles pulled from the internet (and only one page of actual real dates).

    I have no idea why it's so difficult to find the information.

    I'm glad this helped. Thank you for your comments!

  8. correction!

    "ten years and seven different articles" (not then years!)



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