Despite the freezing temperatures that have recently engulfed the country, crowds braved the elements on January 23 to attend the opening ceremony of this year’ carnival season and hear Patras mayor Costas Peletidis declare its official start at Georgiou square.
“The best carnival in Greece has started.” he declared. “The drums of peace sound tonight from Patras for the entire world.”
The opening ceremony of the carnival was a colorful mix of music, voices and images from Greece as well as Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and Italy. It concluded with a percussion instrument concert while the night sky was lit up by a fireworks display.
The Greek carnival season begins up to three weeks before the start of lent and reaches its height on the weekend before Clean Monday. The season is celebrated across Greece with street carnivals and parties, and young and old alike dress up in costumes of their choice.
The carnival of Patras, in particular, is the largest in Greece and is famed for its atmosphere and vivid displays. A series of carnival events take place for three weeks from the moment the season opening is declared culminating in the Grand Parade with an elaborate fireworks display on the last Sunday before Clean Monday.
The city’s nature as a port town and proximity to Italy means that, historically, the Patras carnival has drawn many influences from Venice.
While many Greek carnival traditions trace their roots back to ancient pagan traditions, it is thought that the Patras carnival officially began in 1829 in the form of a ball thrown at the residence of one of the city’s merchants.
The city’s carnival displays have grown progressively more elaborate over the decades and draw large crowds from across Greece annually. Professional carnival dancers and musicians from Greece and abroad add to the party atmosphere.