Rethymno Carnival 2024

Feb 24, 2024 — Mar 18, 2024 • Category: Events
Location: Town

With a long history that dates back more than one hundred years, the Rethymno Carnival definitely deserves to be called the ‘Carnival of Crete’! This year its theme is none other than its most essential element, company, as companies of friends have always been the very reason behind its creation, besides being formed and strengthened through the festivities. Lasting a whole month and bringing together over 12,000 participants, divided in more than 30 groups, it boasts a rich program reviving a series of age-old customs.

The Program

This year, festivities begin with the established children’s treasure hunt on February 17th and 18th. The official opening of the Carnival takes place a week later, on Sunday the 25th, with a concert at the Agnostos Statiotis (Unknown Soldier) square. It is on this occasion that the Mayor and the Carnival King address each other, embodying the ceremony’s satirical spirit. Earlier in the day, carnivalists go around the villages, inviting the people to participate.

After that, on March 2nd and 3rd, the major Treasure Hunt begins, preceded by a ball on the previous evening.

Of particular interest are the beautiful serenades around the streets of the Old Town which will take place on the 5th and the 15th of March. Accompanied by traditional musical instruments and local choirs, a group of artists followed by crowds of people goes around the streets of the historical center, singing tunes from Crete, as well as from other parts of the country.

Grill Thursday, the so-called Tsiknopempti, is celebrated with particular splendor, as several groups set up barbecue feasts all over the place.

Other activities over the following days include a carnival run, a cycling competition and a ball, in which each group presents an original sketch inspired by the theme of its choice. After the presentations, there is a big party with plenty of food and dancing till the early hours of the morning.

The Carnival escalates on the 16th and 17th of March, with the children’s parade and the huge main parade of carnivalists and floats along the most central avenue of Rethymno Town. In the end, the Carnival King is burned on the beach of Rethymno to mark the start of Lent and the belief that he will rise from his ashes the following year to preside over the next Carnival.

And just when it seems that the festivities are over, two quaint customs revive on the morrow, on Clean Monday! The first one, that of the Camel, is a Dionysiac custom that made a comeback in the 19th century. The camel is made out of a wooden ladder, two baskets that form its humps, a long piece of cloth and a donkey’s skull. Two mandarins serve as the animal’s eyes, while a reel is fastened on its palate so that its mouth can open or close at the pull of a rope. Then, it is adorned with rabbit skins. It usually takes three people, one to hold the head, which has been attached to a pole, and the other two to form the humps by holding the baskets. As soon as everything is ready, the camel starts parading through the village streets, driven by a camel man disguised as an Arab. The driver gives it commands, trying to lead it where he wants, but the animal is disobedient. The procession is accompanied by the locals, who have dressed up in makeshift costumes, with sheep bells and hides. The custom stands for the unceasing cycle of life as people sow the land and the crops sprout. The revelry continues till nightfall, to the sound of traditional Cretan tunes. The other custom, called moutzouroma, involves the smudging of all participants’ faces.

If you find yourselves in Crete, don’t miss this chance to experience these unique, hilarious traditions!