Carnival: Symbolic Rituals and Nutrition Practices

Greece, even though living and taking an active part in a contemporary era, is a country that is strongly linked to its traditions and customs. Going through the meaning of the word tradition, we see that it derives from the Latin “traditio” which in Greek would be paradosi (παράδοση), implying offering, delivering, or giving. It indicates the principles and practices transmitted from generation to generation, not in an attempt to restore the past or the memory of words, but as a constant abiding bond in one’s spirit. It is an experience and a feeling relived and repeated through time and which constitutes an integral part of a nation united by common descent, language, history, and culture.

Carnival is considered as one of the countless traditions, with roots that go back decades, and even centuries, into antiquity. The spirit of carnival is similarly celebrated in many countries, often regardless of religious beliefs, because apart from the mirth and joyful time it symbolizes the facets of life.

Let us go through the terminology of the word itself. Carnival is derived again from the Latin word “caro/carne” for meat or flesh and vale means in Latin “goodbye,” otherwise, it implies the time “when someone should say goodbye to meat food.” In Greek, Carnival (Apokries or Απόκριες) carries the same meaning. “Apo” meaning deprivation and kries (κρέας) meat.

The study of traditions and customs points out that the true origins of Carnival actually lie in pagan rituals predating Christianity and are historically referred to as raucous festivities culminating in the day before Lent (the fasting period). Laughter, fun, and masquerades during Carnival are not only related to traditions but mainly the need of man to overcome fear, release repressed emotions as well as to praise nature.

Some traditions may have been lost through time, yet various parts of Greece have either kept them or have started their revival. Primordial elements will always remain alive, and through these, we shall be able to feel their archetypal energy and magic and mostly the purification they convey. After all, purification was a key component in ancient drama.

According to the Orthodox tradition, Carnival is a preparatory period for the ascetic experience of Lent, and the introduction to the period of fasting and preparation for the coming event, that of Easter, wherein the faithful abstain from eating meat and dairy products and instead consume vegetables, fruits, and pulses.

Disguises, masks, fires, satire, representations of marriage and resurrection, joy, laughter, extroversion, and uplifting of the soul. Carnival is the euphoria of the land and harvest, fertility and the health of people and animals, and the transition from winter to spring.

In villages, the farmers can feel the change that is taking place and they eagerly await the coming of spring to ensure the vegetation and euphoria of their fields. It is not just the mood for joy and fun that causes people living in Mediterranean climates to take part in Carnival celebrations, but also their inner feelings and instinct that man is dependent on nature.

Carnival is in fact an ode to nature, it is that joyful, exuberant call to wakening. It announces the end of winter, welcoming instead fruitfulness and resurrection. It announces that spring is at our threshold and with that, it includes three important symbolic ritual acts: a) plowing-sowing, b) marriage and childbearing, 3) death and resurrection. Each ritual on its own and yet all tightly linked to food habits, mainly Mediterranean healthy nutrition.

In conclusion, Carnival is about joint feasts and reinforcing cohesion and community identity.

May the spirit of Carnival, what is mostly needed in our time, always exist.