I must admit I'm not a great carnival fan. Born and reared in Nicosia – the capital city of Cyprus – I've never been keen on Carnival and hated dressing up as a princess or witch or whatever when I was a child! No one celebrates Carnival in Nicosia, and as a child or even teenager I thought I'd stand out if I dressed up! Funnily enough, as an adult, I took to dressing up and truly enjoyed some crazy carnival parties! Surely, this is because I've been living in Larnaca for the last 30 years or so!! I can't say, though, that people in Larnaca have a blast dressing up for the carnival, yet they have made an all-out effort to be decent carnival fans!
This said, there is not one city in Cyprus which approaches the show Lemesos annually presents. The carnival festival begins two weeks before the 50-day Greek Orthodox Lenten period. Some trace the customs back to Greek times although the customs are now all their own. The first week is called the Meat Week (Kreatini), as it is the last week for eating meat before Easter. The second week is known as the cheese week (Tyrini), when cheese and other dairy products may be consumed.
Carnival festivities begin on the Thursday of the Meat Week, and the day is known as Tsiknopefti, gaining its name from the unmistakable aromas of the meat cooking. The festival starts with the entrance parade of the King Carnival, entering the town of Limassol which is decorated for the occasion.
The first of the two Sundays is the Children's Parade and then the serenaders with their melodic guitars and mandolins become the focus of much of the Carnival. These serenaders will wander the streets on foot enchanting young and old alike. Many fancy-dress balls and parties take place each night.
Parties are held and people gather to feast, sing satirical songs and play games. The last Sunday of the Cheese Week is the highlight of the Carnival. This is when the Grand Carnival Parade takes place on the last Sunday of the Carnival Festivities before Green Monday or the first day of lent.
Colourful floats and groups of people, singing and dancing, parade in the main roads of Lemesos - a truly festive atmosphere. The open-air celebrations and feasting take place throughout Cypriot towns but the Grand Parade in Lemesos is the peak focus of the Carnaval. During the Carnival parade large crowds from all over the island gather to watch the floats accompanied by the serenaders and other amazingly- costumed groups.
During the cheese or Tyrini week of carnival, look out for seasonal specialties such as pastry bourekia filled with mint flavour cheese and ravioli. Also sticky sweetmeats such as daktyla and kandaifi. Many Cypriots will pack a picnic on Green Monday and head for the countryside where their picnic feast will include vegetables, olives, bread and salad and local wines.
These customs date back to ancient times with a particular nod to the days when Dionysus ruled the Mediterranean Sea as a deity of mystery and wine. With the passage of time it has acquired a different, purely entertaining character, with a large, popular following. During the Carnival parade there will be many serenaders and other masqueraded groups