On the island of Skyros in the middle of the Aegean Sea, the sound of hundreds of bells vibrates the old town (Chora) during Apokries celebrations. The main figure of the island’s celebration is the “Old Man” (Geros). Brave Skyrians, dress in woollen clothes and animal skins, dance in the streets with dozens of bells hung around their waist.
Apokries is the carnival season in Greece. Celebrated throughout most of the country, it is the time of the year where ancient myths, mysticism festivities, and Dionysian ceremonies come back to life. Most of the festivities have roots back to the ancient time—but, in most of the times, nobody remembers their origin or their original meaning. The celebration lasts a month, and its final day is exactly forty days before Easter.
As the story goes, hundreds of years ago a shepherd lost his entire herd during a rough winter. His desperation drove him crazy. He hung the bells form every one of his dead animals around his waist and danced in the streets of Chora. His wife "Korela" danced around him in the streets. In the celebration today was added the figure of the “Fragos,” an awkwardly-dressed joker who dances around the sad “Old Man” to cheer him up.
In the early days, the celebration had been popular among the shepherd’s community on the island—since they had the necessary materials—to assemble the woollen clothes, bells, and the shepherd’s jacket of the costumes. Members from other communities would work with the shepherds for free throughout the year just to be able to wear the Old Man’s costume during Apokries season. Today, an original “Old Man” uniform costs from $3,000 to $3,500.
The Skyrian people who dress in the “Old Man” costume describe a mystical experience. They say when they first don the nearly 60-lb. costume, the weight of the bells isn’t troublesome. However, after an hour of dancing in the streets the weight of the bells feels double. Although, after the initial feeling of tiredness, the continual motion, the sound of dozens of bells, and the hot, thick smell of the animal skin costume mixed with human sweat bring the participants to a state of ecstasy where they feel nothing.
Skyrian people love their island and they are very strict on keeping the customs and traditions. During the Apokries you can see in the streets of the Old Town kids as young as a few months old, who barely walk, and they are dressed as an “Old Man”. This devotion keeps this beautiful tradition alive, and today tourists from all over the world travel to Skyros, during the Apokries, just to see the “Old Men” dancing in the streets.