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Greeks celebrate carnival on great 'Ghost Night'

By AFP

March 17, 2024 08:00 PM


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The clanking of cowbells signals the arrival of the ghost of Amfissa, as a sound system spits out the cries of ferocious beasts and crowds of carnival-goers brandish smartphones.

In this small town in central Greece, close to the ancient sanctuary of Delphi, "Ghost Night" is the culmination of festivities celebrated across the country this weekend.

Amfissa's ghost is a giant monster made of cardboard, rope and fabric, parading through the night. The head is misshapen, teeth long and eyes bulging.

For the last three decades, the nocturnal revelries mark the story of the tragic destiny of a local Romeo and Juliet, held on the last Saturday before the start of Orthodox Lent.

The star-crossed lovers are called Constantis, a hard-working and conscientious tanner, and Lenio, a young girl from Amfissa.

They have sworn an oath of love and fidelity, but one day, Lenio is struck by lightning and killed at Charmaina's well. In despair, Constantis commits suicide.

His ghost has since haunted the well and roamed the town making beastly cries that frighten the locals.

  'Celebrating a legend' 

 Many of Amfissa's 6,000 population dress as elves, tanners and ghosts using goatskins. They fix horns to their heads, bells and chains on their belts.

"We are celebrating a legend, not a custom" as in the rest of festive Greece, said Nikos Loupakos, Amfissa's deputy mayor. "That's what makes us special."

On the Saturday evening, the "Ghost of Charmaina" ponderously descends the 120 stone steps from the church to the main square, flanked by orange groves and cafes with wooden doors and shutters.

There, in front of the crowd, it confronts and then finally defeats two equally large and terrifying ghosts.

Sellers of Souvlaki grilled skewers then take centre stage around the large tables at Amfissa's cafes and bars, and the party night really kicks off.

"We've been celebrating this legend for 29 years", said Costas Panayiotas, a 42-year-old fireman who leads the ghost through the town.

  Keep the tradition going 

 "We've been celebrating this legend for 29 years", said Costas Panayiotas, a 42-year-old fireman who leads the ghost through the streets.

The tradition continues "because we want it, we love it and, above all (...) we want our children to carry it on" after us, he added before pulling on a goatskin.

Next to him, Christos Doukas, 35, untangles the chains that he will attach to his belt, saying that he's delighted to dive into the fun every year.

"It's incredible," he said. "It's really an opportunity to escape... We don't worry about anything. We forget our problems for a day."

Τhe basic elements of the ghost disguises are tied to the historical roots of the local economy that, says the deputy mayor, "was based on tanning, bell-making and rope-making".

Carnival, "Apokries" in Greek, is a season of Dionysian abandon, starting three weeks before Lent. Traditionally it is most intensely celebrated in Patras, the major port of the Peloponnese, at Xanthi in the north-east, Naoussa in northern Greece and Rethymnon on Crete.

Τhe pretty coastal town of Galaxidi, 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Amfissa, will take up the celebrations staging flour battles on "Clean Monday", a public holiday at the start of Lent when the skies of Greece will fill with kites.


AFP


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