Whereas many Naxian celebrations have religious origins, like Easter or Christmas, the huge celebration of Apokria, has no religious significance, and is celebrated differently all over Greece. Apokria or Carnival - usually in February and March, it depends when Easter falls - is celebrated with much eating, drinking, and singing - and of course wearing costumes.
Naxos has a fabulous and very unique Apokria celebration, which has grown so much, and become so popular, that the major Greek TV channels now cover it. As a matter of fact, it is beginning to attract more and more attendees every year, from all over Greece!
Reviving local tradition, on the first day of the three-day weekend is a representation of an Ancient Mythological Event, the second is the Torchlight Procession, and the third is the Carnival King Parade, with its multiple floats.
Each year, day one is celebrated with a depiction of a different tale from the rich Naxian myth of Dionysus (or Bacchus, as the Romans called him) and Ariadne. This performance is an impressive ritual, and begins at the Venetian Castle, ending at the port in Hora. Satyrs, Maenads (the female followers of Dionysus, whose name literally means “raving ones”), and other mythological creatures are represented, accompanied by drummers, music, dancers, fireworks, and the local wine. This marks the beginning of Carnival in Naxos
Day two is the Torchlight, courtesy of the Naxos Cinema Association; it is so unique that each year it continue to gain followers, who travel from every corner of Greece to participate in it. Saturday night, all the participants go up to the Association’s office, next to the Castle, where they prepare for the “baptism by fire.” The baptism consists of draping themselves in white sheets, completely painting their faces black and white, placing wreaths of dried wheat around their heads, and lighting the torches that they will carry in a procession, through the town. The parade departs from the Castle, and travels down the narrow and characteristic paths through Old Town, down to the Paralia, where it ends in the center of Mandilara Square. Participants and bystanders alike, then celebrate with rakόmelo (a mixed drink of raki and honey), plenty of wine, and traditional music, played on Naxian shepherd instruments of bagpipes and tambourines.
Day three, the last day of Apokria, Sunday, the Carnival King Parade takes place. The parade of floats departs from in front of Naxos Hospital, and ends on the Paralia, in the center of Mandilara Square. This is where the fun, music, dancing, and plenty of flowing wine, help to make this the biggest carnival party in the Cyclades. Everyone is invited to participate in this parade. All you need do is form your own group, construct the most original float, create the best costumes, and come join the fun - The top three entries are awarded cash prizes.
After carnival comes Clean Monday, which marks the first of the 40 days before Easter, when fasting begins.
Because on Naxos, farming drove the economy, Naxian celebrations mainly revolved around the circle of seasonal phenomenon, reflecting the fears, hopes, and sorrows of the farmers and shepherds. That is why most of the celebrations, to this day, have their roots in agriculture and sheepherding.
One typical Naxian celebration is called Plee-theereis - celebrated to this day, albeit in a scaled down manner; it’s one in which you pray to the gods to increase your yield from animals and agriculture. Although it’s not a religious holiday, it’s celebrated the same day as Jesus ascended, 50 days after Easter.
Originally, the shepherds stayed in the stables preparing a particular kind of ksee-no or tart yogurt. Then, all the villagers sent their children to the shepherds, offering gifts and wishes for the shepherds’ animals, that they multiply, and their yield increases. In return, the shepherds gave the children the yogurt. This was a very important celebration, the schools remained closed, and is uniquely Naxian.
Each village has a patron saint, to whom its church is dedicated, and each year on the name day celebration of this saint, there is a huge pa-neeyeeri, or festival. The village squares are filled with live music, dance and food, and people come from all over the island.