The Lemesos (Limassol) CARNIVAL
How the Carnival was born and how it is celebrated
The origin of the Carnival traces back to the very past and is closely linked with the history of the Greeks. It seems that it is a festivity related to classical antiquity: the Dionysiac festivals called Dionysia, during which a contest was taking place amongst the three great tragedians of ancient Greece: Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, the three dramatists of our history.
In ancient times, as far as we know and from what we read, the actors used to bear masques during the dramatic spectacles and comedic performances. It is obvious that the modern way of disguising oneself during the carnival festivities derives from this habit.
The word Carnival comes naturally from French and Italian and means the end of the meat-eating period. It is for us, the Greeks, what we call "Apokria", which is celebrated by the whole population, independently to their social or any other status. It is an iron law, quite consistent from the psychological point of view with a deeper meaning, which gives the opportunity to man to go beyond the limits imposed by conventional social pretensions. Man is, therefore, free to follow his passions and desires and behave according to his wishes, independently to the age or the sex. It is a certain ease to enjoy a peace of mind and a state of health, a way of airing an isolated secret corner of the subconscious, which helps him carrying on struggling every day unruffled and relieved to survive.
In a few words, we could say that the "Apokries" is a nice and wise psychological introduction to the fast period and a preparation to celebrate the greatest feast of Christianity, that is Easter, which comes one and a half month later. Going through "Apokria" period, man finds a way out to express himself in a free, unco-ordinated and unrestrained way. It is a way of relaxing so that to be ready to be committed in the procedure of fast which starts on the first Monday. Man is ready in terms of spirit and body to attend the Holy Passion and the Mass during the Holy Week that comes after.
How did people use to celebrate the carnival festivities in ancient times and how do they do it today, is a question that comes up to our mind.
If we went back to the past, we would see that the Romans took from the Greeks the carnival festivities, thus celebrating the Saturnalia representing the festivities in honour of Cronus who was for them the god protecting the seed-time. During this great roman celebration, eating, drinking and disguising were prevailing.
During the Byzantine times, the carnival festivities were celebrated with some differences; the conventional and social restrictions of the city of Byzas, which were valid during the rest of the year, were not taken into consideration.
We could compendiously say that the "Apokries" keep since ancient times not only the element of joy but also that of enthusiasm. An atmosphere of myth and cheerfulness is engendered and is felt by the great masses of people in each country of the world. In particular, for the Greeks it is not a festivity of routine but on the contrary we would say that it is closely related to our religion. This is precisely why we have rejected the festivities of "Apokria" as they used to be celebrated in ancient times, keeping, however, all its other elements in their genuine form.
Our ancestors told us while describing the Carnival that Rome came first in terms of organizing carnival festivities, later Venice and then Nice and Patras, to conclude with Rio and little Cyprus.
In Venice, men, women and children were during the period of "Apokria" disguised wherever they went and wherever they found themselves. The patricians (Roman noble citizens) behaved like the townspeople, those belonging to the lower class behaved like patricians; the rich appeared equal to the vagrants (beggars) and the noblemen (aristocrats) to the handicraftsmen (workers). In Venice they started bearing masques since Monday after Christmas until Thursday of the last week of "Apokria".
During the Middle Age in France, jesters with masques participated in various events, which were subsidized even by the ecclesiastic authorities. It is said indeed that in 1308 an archbishop "borrowed" his sacred canonical to a jester who played the part of archbishop. It is also mentioned that some archbishops and other clerical staff put off their canonical to be dressed like jesters, which then was something that could bring about a scandal if the church was notified.
The Carnival is, for many years, celebrated everywhere in the world with the same mood and interest expressed by all the people. Mostly well known is the Carnival of Venice, Nice, Patras and certainly that of Rio, which nowadays bears the palm since the atmosphere created during the carnival festivities is panoramic, splendid and remains unforgettable. We could parenthetically underline that in Rio de Janeiro the people live only with a single aim: for carnival and only carnival. This is why they breathe; they work during the whole year and make so many sacrifices with sparing no pains to enjoy it. There are even schools where they are taught the secrets of this great feast. In each neighbourhood, in each house the first element one may come across with is carnival. They sleep dreaming of it and wake up thinking of it. When the big moment comes, they pour out of their houses in thousands flooding the streets to carouse, to enjoy the samba, the bolero and each kind of already known and unknown dance, representing their neighbourhood, the place where they are born. When the "festival" is over, they go back to there routine work expecting the next yearís festivities. This is maybe the reason why when reference is made to Rio, Carnival is thought of unconsciously without knowing why, without being in a position to give a reasonable explanation.
The Lemesos (Limassol) Carnival is, however that may be, a feast that we all of us expect to enjoy impatiently and willingly. It was celebrated in an organized way since the past when groups of merrymakers from all the social strata of the city organized in their houses meetings with a unique aim: the entertainment. Even when wine caused mirth, they surge out in the streets in tens to organize parades using donkeys, carriages, broughams, and bikes.
People of that era felt a vast satisfaction watching their fellow citizens disguised, satirizing situations, persons and various things directly or indirectly linked with the everyday life and the reality of their times.
This kind of carnival festivities could be considered lost more or less throughout time, mainly because of the absolute law of evolution and with the opportunities offered for a 24 hour entertainment indoors but also outdoors. In fact people are different today. Their way of living is different; it has in two words kept abreast with the mechanical progress following this difficult way while romanticism has retreated significantly.
The Carnival has, naturally, survived and will remain alive throughout centuries. It has certainly succeeded in being more impressive, more glamorous and generally all its festivities are from now on organized in the spirit that corresponds to our times. The modern social conditions with the big problems and the various concerns have made man lose somehow the mood he had in the past as well as his humour that always characterized him. This is why more groups and chars with a rather artistic than satiric character appear today during the carnival festivities.
A great chapter of the history of the Lemesos (Limassol) Carnival is admittedly devoted to the serenaders with their guitars and their mandolins. They were wandering in the streets on foot, standing under the balconies of their fellow citizensí houses and with their fascinating serenades enchanted young girls and old people, men and children. Today, the town has grown bigger and the distances are endless. However, the serenaders have not abandoned their effort. They wander through the streets in golden dresses and multicoloured costumes on their motorized chars or walking and offer entertainment, reminding us those good old times.
Regarding the dances, they never take place in houses and in cine rooms, but in the vast saloons of the big hotels because this is simply what is required by all these changes occurred in the way of living of modern man.
The Lemesos (Limassol) Municipality has always been a pioneer; it has since the old times tried to keep as much as it could and assure the continuation of the same traditional way of celebrating the carnival festivities. Although it has spared no pains and even if it has to go through hard times and cope with difficult situations as the rest of the islandís population.
The Limassolian spirit is not dead and will never be. On the contrary, some of the very old traditions and customs will be preserved thanks to it. The children of our latest generation have learned to love and expect the venue of the Carnival. This love is the source that gave birth to the idea, which is unique in its kind for the organization in our town of the big child parade. At the beginning it took place shyly with the participation of hundreds of children; nowadays thousands of children participate. Nice ideas, glamorous dresses and so much cheering attract the interest of the adults too who watch them, admire and applause them.
The Lemesos (Limassol) Carnival will remain alive because this is what we are taught by the older generations and because this is what we will teach the coming generations.