For Greek Orthodox families around Greece and world wide, last Monday – Kathari Deftera – marked the beginning of seven weeks of Lent, and an end to the three week long celebrations and feast of food, fun and fancy costumes – Apokries.

The weekend behind us was the last Apokria and, in Greece, closing carnival celebrations were held all over the country.

The Kathari Deftera (Clean Monday) long weekend, on 3 March this year, is always a special one in Greece. Koulouma, as it is sometimes called, is the official beginning of the 49 day fasting period of Lent, Sarakosti.

In Greece, the tradition of this day has it that families go out in the open flying kites, as it is believed this is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection.

Carnival and Kathari Deftera are celebrated all over Greece, in schools, towns and villages, with numerous customs and traditions that differ from one village to another. Carnival celebrations date back to antiquity and the worship of the god Bacchus, or Dionysus.

The biggest festival takes place in Patra, where people spend the whole year preparing for the coming Carnival celebrations. Xanthi’s Carnival is the biggest festival of Northern Greece, while in the central Macedonia town of Naousa, Apokries are a time of satiric carnival celebrations, with the custom of Giannitsaros and Boula as its most renowned event.

In Australia, carnival spirits this year were kept alive, with celebrations held in Greek schools and local communities.

Taking part in Kathari Deftera celebrations were students of the recently opened GOCMV Advanced Greek School, for children whose mother tongue is Greek.
Dozens of students, alongside their teachers, gathered to make their own kites to fly, but also to try Lenten dishes and lagana, the bread traditionally made on this day.
Using materials supplied by their new school, the children learned how to build kites, with a special emphasis on the construction of the Greek traditional shape with a hexagonal frame.
With great success, the customs of Carnavali and Kathari Deftera were also celebrated at AHEPA’s Greek School.
Children, teachers and parents arrived at school dressed up in colourful costumes and favourite masks, enjoyed Greek Carnival songs and tasted traditional delicacies.

Principal of the school, Ms Stella Lambrou, said that the goal of the school is to introduce the children to important celebrations of the Greek tradition through cultural events like this. During the week preceding the Kathari Deftera, various activities were held inside the classroom to educate children and to get them to understand the spirit of Carnival and Sarakosti.

Similar to AHEPA School, the carnival festivities will culminate this week at Pythagoras Greek School. With Preston and South Melbourne campuses taking off with celebrations on Monday and Friday, Elwood and Caulfield campuses will put an end to festivities with today’s masquerade.

This year Apokries celebrations at Pythagoras School were taken to the next level, as Principal Con Roubos told Neos Kosmos.

“It’s the first time we are celebrating Apokries in this way after almost six years – it was six years ago that we tried to get the kids dressed up the last time. It didn’t pan out, it was half-hearted, we had no parents’ backing.

“But this year we said it from the day one that we want to make a day of it; we want students, parents and teachers to come dressed. We wanted to make a show for parents and grandparents, and it really worked out,” Mr Roubos said.

In all its campuses, Pythagoras School got students of all ages involved in this year’s Apokries festivities, which apart from dressing up and kite flying also included a significant portion of Sarakosti and Apokries customs. Celebrations in Preston and South Melbourne campus saw the little ones sing and dance to a traditional kids song Dili Dili to kandili. The older students’ groups had seen their girls do the gaitanaki – the ribbon dance, while the boys sang the Apokries classic, Pos to trivoun to piperi. Principal Con Roubos says it’s the school’s way to keep tradition and customs alive.

“We are losing these traditions here. It’s not the most significant thing in the world, but it’s just a shame. We need help from parents. Our generation stopped speaking Greek at home, so within a generation not only are we going to lose the cultural significance but the language as well. It’s all wearing away.

“I feel this year was just a start but we are going to try even harder to try and celebrate almost everything that is not celebrated, like Apokries. Especially because it’s not being celebrated at home. Apokries are going to be a mainstay, one of the main giortes we are going to celebrate at Greek school,” he said.