The end of February is traditional Carnival time in Cyprus. Just like our Russian Mardi Gras, or Maslenitsa, the carnival in Cyprus stems from ancient times and was not originally connected to Christianity; with time, however, it became associated with Lent and Easter. Cypriots, while being very religious, do not consider the carnival blasphemous in any way (similar to Maslenitsa in the times of Russian Tsars, I guess). You can read about the carnival, its history, traditions, and events schedule, in more detail at cyprustravellers.net (Limassol Carnival 2017) and on Limassol city’s website (from which I copied the pictures for this post). By the way, while reading that website, I found out that apart from the world-famous carnivals in Venice and Rio, carnivals are also celebrated in Patras in Greece and in Tenerife.
I firmly decided that there was no way I could possibly miss such an event, considering that locals started preparing for it right after the New Year’s celebrations. I absolutely had to take part in the main parade on February 26. Here's a short "how to" guide.
If you want to enjoy the festivities to the max, you can spend the whole 10 days of the carnival in Limassol, of course. But I guess it's best to just visit Limassol for the last day of the carnival. The most die-hard carnival fans among the locals do celebrate wildly every day, but actually not that many events happen during the carnival. You do have to try local barbecue (souvlaki), which you'll find given out for free by many big businesses and grilled by locals on every corner, and wash it down with zivania (traditional grape brandy), listen to serenades, and take part in the classic car parade (l'll fill you in on the details later). But don't expect anything super-tremendous or epic from the Cyprus carnival. Though it may very well be that locals celebrate it at home (important holidays like the New Year and Christmas are generally celebrated with the family, so to an outsider it may seem like absolutely nothinп is happening on the island... which could also be true). Huge papier-mache effigies are erected around the city, public venues are decorated with garlands and all sorts of ornaments, some bars and clubs organise carnival-themed parties... and that's it, I guess, since everybody is busy preparing for the epic last day.
Last December I went to the Archeological museum with a friend; on the way back we stopped to admire a beautiful building in traditional style, a rural mansion of sorts. The owner, an aging gentleman, saw us out of a window and invited us to come in to see the house, which turned out to be a municipal museum. There we were told about the origins of Limassol serenades - a unique and strictly local musical phenomenon, and integral part of the carnival.
On the last day, you are supposed to join one of the teams and walk in the procession on one of the central streets, Makarios avenue. Officially the procession begins at 13:00, covers 8 kilometers, and lasts the whole day. Follow this link to see participating teams from last year. Each team has a Facebook page, where you can learn more about costumes, who to contact, etc. Each costume costs around 35-45 euro and has to be ordered in advance. However, if you don't wish to join an official team, you can just dress up in your own carnival costume (which you can buy at the carnival market, or at ubiquitous Jumbo) and participate in the parade. By the way, if you don't find the time to get a costume, you can buy a hat or a mask during the procession itself.
I would divide carnival teams into three types:
- Those who come prepared and with great costumes;
- Groups of youngsters (they have simple costumes in the style of American sports teams, but are the most numerous, with liveliest music, and visibly having most fun);
- ...and the rest - intersting but less original teams.
The principle is the same, however, - young or old, you have to party till you drop! Each team gets to arrange its own space with a team effigy, where they allow kids to play. By the way, some people come with really young babies in strollers (god knows how they manage to safely navigate their way through the crowd), but in spite of the reigning chaos and loud music kids seem to feel very comfortable. I wouldn't think it possible, but I didn't see a single crying child on that day; I guess love for the Carnival is in their genes. Adult team members stock up on beer and snacks, plus stronger drinks (it's all free for team members; in my team there were even a few guys pushing around supermarket trolleys filled with various goodies), which they first imbibe to warm up before the procession, and then go on celebrating all the way, sometimes pouring drinks to cheering spectators whom they happen to like.
Since it was our first carnival, we were still very naive: arriving ten minutes after the official opening time, were were anxious we might have to catch up with our team, but... we didn't have to, obviously, since the carnival crowd only got moving at 3 pm. Thus we had time to get a bite and take a look at other teams, so we had done well to come early. So if it's your first time, don't worry about being late. The point of the carnival parade is the parade itself - you just need to have fun, dance, and share your joy with everyone. We only walked two or three kilometers (by 16:30 we felt pretty tired), but it was still great fun.
A couple of words about the organisation of the event. On the way back we saw sweeper machines on the streets, ready to clean the roads on the same day (there were tons of garlands and other stuff lying around, people were walking on a veritable carpet of shredded tinsel). And locals, who had been drinking and partying all day, behaved very decently - I didn't see any seriously drunk or aggressive people, neither during the parade, nor in the evening. The day after the carnival was an official holiday; people spend this so-called Green Monday recovering after the feast, enjoying the spring sun, and flying kites (seemingly another Greek tradition).