The ritual which brings together all the
visitors to the festival, no matter their age, sex
or nationality, is the cooking of the spinach soup, or bourania, simmering in a huge
cauldron under the watchful gaze of several
elderly gentlemen with naughty smiles on
their faces. Everyone who passes by must
stop and stir the soup with a long wooden
ladle of a particular shape, take a sip of soup
straight from the ladle and then drink a shot
of tsipouro from a ceramic phallic-shaped
tumbler. After this ashes are smeared on the
faces of the guests as a sign that they have
undergone this procedure.
Next to the cauldron of bourania is something
else which attracts flocks of laughing festivalgoers
– the rocking throne in the shape
of a phallus. Usually 'ridden' by grinning
representatives of the male sex from 5 to 105
years old, the occasional woman consents to
try it out.
The mass participation of women in
the outrageous carnival in Tyrnavos is a
comparatively recent phenomenon. Local
people say that, up to the Second World War,
the festival was exclusively a male preserve.
Women stayed at home behind drawn
curtains and only the boldest of them dared
to peep out and see their fathers, husbands
and sons having fun in such a Dionysian way.
Today many visitors come to the carnival
with their children and without any obvious
embarrassment buy them one of those
The Greek Orthodox Church definitely
disapproves of the carnival in Tyrnavos. Every
year senior clergy try to ban the festivities, but
to no avail. For one thing, the carnival is too
much fun and, more importantly, it is older
than Christianity itself.
The festival of the penis in Tyrnavos
stems from one of the oldest documented
celebrations of the rebirth of nature – the
Dionysian festivities. The merry processions
of inebriated maenads and sileni are frequent
themes in Baroque art, but the celebrations in
Antiquity were much more flamboyant.
Ironically, in the beginning they were
reserved for women. The Days of Dionysus
were perhaps the only days of the year when
Greek women left their homes for reasons
other than going to the market or to the town
fountain. They threw off their clothes, let
down their tresses and ran madly to some
nearby grove or meadow. There, in an ecstatic
trance, which they believed had been sent
by Dionysus, they sang, drank and danced.
They waved thyrsae in their hands – long rods
with a cone at the end, which anthropologists
believe actually symbolised penises.
Sometimes the trance of the maenads became
so intense that they might tear apart with
their bare hands an animal or even a human
being passing by.
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