Everything connected to Apokreas (Carnival) is linked to the worship of Dionysos.
When humankind first started agriculture and domesticating animals around 9000 BC, the sprouting of seeds and maturing of crops was mystical. Why did one group of seeds fail and another bunch of the same seeds flourish? It must have seemed to the ancients that a lot in their lives was out of their control. In whose control was nature and what could humans do to have nature look favorably upon them? Forces of nature were given personalities and names and the personalities were beseeched to give people a break now and again.
In this corner of the world, one among the many of these forces of nature was, over time, given a name and an identity. Dionysos became the face of fertility of the grape and likewise of all of growing things ( though he also shared these duties with Demeter and other deities – each with their special area of influence). But as the god of wine Dionysus was a lot more fun and he was very popular throughout the Greek world. Dionysos was especially popular in areas where a lot of wine was produced and Skopelos from ancient times was one of those places.
The ancients wanted god on their side, so strategies developed to seek favor with the god. Rituals were created to be repeated if they were successful and abandoned if they failed. One ritual was to honor the god with ritual sacrifice. In the beginning of spring, before the vines begin to bud, you killed an animal, roasted it and an ate it as an offering to the god. The more offerings the more powerful the gift. Perhaps this is today’s Tskinopempti. The ritual also seems to have merged with the slaughtering of animals at Easter. I imagine that ritual sacrifice was hugely popular in the ancient world wherever there was a temple to a deity. The Acropolis must have been a very smoky place, likewise Delphi. The best thing was that the sacrifice became your dinner.
The ancients wanted the god to visit them and their community and so bless them with fertility. Here in Skopelos we welcome him with the Trata ship procession because the ancients believed that Dionysos always arrived from the sea. He was also depicted as a male god wearing female clothing. We carry the deity through the streets in his ship, and honor him by singing bawdy songs and drinking. It is the type of behavior the god appreciates, the dirtier and drunker the better! We even cross-dress to honor him.
The god is welcomed! Now let’s marry him.
In the natural world fertility usually involves some combination of male and female. To please the god and further his magic, the ancients carried out ritual weddings, symbolically marrying someone to the representation of Dionysos. This was a joyous occasion complete with singing, dancing and a procession through the community to show off the happy couple.
The last Sunday of carnival on Skopelos a big group of people dress up, many in traditional Skopelitan clothes and join in a wedding procession. They sing, dance and go through the town and stop at every square to show off. Locals from the neighborhood present them with drinks and rice pudding. Usually the bride is a man and the groom a woman. It is called Oi kales .
The celebrations for carnival usually begin on Tsiknopempti (Thursday) and last for 12 days. On Tsiknopempti, groups of people old and young, dressed in funny dresses or carnival costumes hang around the village teasing other people, visit the island houses and end up in taverns until dawn. During the whole carnival period, there is a spirit of joy, with lots of dances, food and drinking, parties, parades, people in fancy carnival costumes etc.