Clean Monday in mainland Greece explodes into bacchanalia, despite Orthodox disapproval
Issue 53-54, February-March 2011
by Minka Vazkresenska; photography by Anthony Georgieff
In Greece, the preparations for Lent
get off to a colourful start. On the last
Sunday before Lent everyone takes part
in their local town carnival and the
next day, Clean Monday, they go out into the
countryside and fly kites.
In Tyrnavos, however, Lent starts differently.
The inhabitants of this small Thessalian
town do not fly kites, but huge penis-shaped
The balloons are not the only provocation. On
the Sunday and on Clean Monday, Tyrnavos
resounds to the Phallus Festival.
In the town at that time of year, you would be
hard put to find any object which hasn't got a
distinctive phallic shape. Bakeries sell graphic
loaves of bread. Manufacturers of the famous
local tsipouro offer their liquor in ceramic
mugs and bottles with the same bodily
outlines. Confectioners have already prepared
enormous quantities of lollipops in all shades
of bright pink, electric blue and blinding
green. You can guess what shape they are.
Vendors have piled their stalls with all kinds
of phallic objects, most of them cheap Madein-
China stuff. You can find everything from
a pair of glasses with a penis instead of a nose
to phallic-shaped bottle openers.
The Phallus Festival involves a series of
rituals. The official ceremony consists of
open-air performances of local folk songs.
Those who speak Greek will recognise words
which could be defined as obscene, to put it
The informal festivities are rather more fun,
and not only because many of the revellers
in the streets are also singing smutty songs.
Groups of men adorned with ceramic
phalluses roam around Tyrnavos. They elect
a so-called chief – or arhibouranioti – and
honour him by crowning him with a penis.
Masked men circulate among the tables of the
taverns – during the carnival in Tyrnavos
you have to queue to get into a restaurant or
a café – spending time with anybody willing
to buy them a drink of tsipouro or ouzo. They
perform bawdy pantomimes, usually inviting
the ladies at the table to join in them.
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