Mention Carnival and the destinations that often come to mind are New Orleans or Brazil, but you may be surprised to learn Carnival is one of the biggest celebrations in Greece every year. While the season is filled with parties, parades and time-honored traditions in cities and villages around the country, Patras, Greece’s third-largest metropolis, is the place to be for family travelers wanting to experience the biggest Apokries (Greek for Carnival) celebration in Europe.
Unlike Mardi Gras, the dates of Greek Carnival follow the Greek Orthodox Church calendar. This year, the season began Jan. 17 with St. Anthony Day and culminates on the first day of Lent, Clean Monday, Feb. 27.
The festival is one of colors, costumes, music, dancing and, above all, having fun. Throughout the month, there will be parties, balls, street performances, parades and even a city-wide treasure hunt, all leading up to the finale the day before Clean Monday. This event, known as the Grand Parade, winds its way along the main street of the city, Maizonos Street, and through the main town square, Georgiou Square, before heading to the sea.
Along the way, groups of parade-goers dressed in fun costumes of every color imaginable toss chocolates to onlookers and, once the parade reaches the waterfront, the main float, the Carnival King, will be tossed into the sea and burned in effigy.
While many of the parties may be geared for adults, the fun costumes and colors of the parades and the fun street performances and events geared specifically for kids are a great way to introduce the little ones to this fun aspect of Greek culture. The week before the Grand Parade is the Children’s Parade, a mini parade geared specifically for families. School-aged children and parents parade through town dressed in colorful costumes amid bright colorful floats.
The season is a fun time for locals and visitors alike, and, as with all other Greek cultural events, everyone is welcome to share in the fun.
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