Carnival is celebrated everywhere across Greece, but it’s only in Naoussa that the Janissaries dance along the “patinada” rhythm. And it is this sound of the “zourna” approaching slowly and getting louder and louder as it gets closer, until you feel the tabor accompanying him pounding inside you, like a second heart! At that moment, the group of the “Janissaries and Boules” passes by you! Young and old Janissaries outcross their swords dancing “patinada”, a slow, sad song. The musicians are the last to follow the group, along with the leader of the group who checks everything around and instructs which songs will be played. If you don’t hear the zourna playing, you haven’t experienced the carnival in Naoussa!
The custom roots back in the years of the Ottoman occupation and was interrupted only during the war (1940-1954). It was revived thanks to the love and tenacity of some people that despite the difficulties of those years were able to set it up again. It’s a purely traditional custom that incorporates in its ritual all the history of the place and its inhabitants. The Janissary (Gianitsaros in Greek) is dressed early and when the plaintive sound of the zourna is heard in the distance, he comes to the window or on the balcony and shakes his body two or three times to greet them. He greets his family goodbye by hopping three times on his feet, crosses his fingers on the doorstep and joins the group that came to get him. They gather all, from the youngest to the oldest and finally the leader. They wait for the Boulla (a man dressed as a bride) to respectfully hand kiss the family and join the group that heads to the Town Hall to ask for permission from the Mayor to dance on the town’s streets. Everything has its special meaning here. Every move, every song to be played on a specific moment during the strictly defined route!
“Town Hall” – “Triodi” – “Kammena” – “Pouliana” – “Batania” – “Stoa” – “Agios Georgios “– “Alonia”: it’s the historic, strictly kept track of the dancing groups, followed by many people until they come to the old “Alonia” district, where they take off their masks, eat, drink and dance along with the people.
This takes place on both Sundays of the Carnival season. On Shrove Monday as well, only then they do not have their masks on. When it is time of parting, they make a circle, put the organist in the middle, they hit their swords on earth and promise to meet on Sunday of Orthodoxy in “Spilaio” area, for the last celebration that will close period of Carnival in Naoussa.
The custom of “Janissaries and Boules” coexists nowadays with modern satirical carnivals, preparing all year through to get on their improvised chariots and satirize modern politics and affairs, wandering around the town’s streets. Today not so many in number and so great in originality than my memory recalls from the past, when we could hear the zournas playing beneath our window before dawn, inviting us to masquerade quickly and follow the group that woke us up! Drinking and dancing all night long, door to door, waking up everyone!
The custom is kept alive and inalterable up to our days. It is a unique tradition, so it fills the city streets with hundreds of people on these days.