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“Bouraní” in Tyrnavos: A pagan custom that lasts only for a day!

On Clean Monday, Greece celebrates the beginning of Lent by observing a day of modesty, and flying kites. This is how we signal the start of a 40-day fast, the transition period just before Easter. But in Týrnavos, a village near the city of Larissa, things take a different turn. 

On this day, in the shadow of the mythological home of Greece's ancient gods, Mt. Olympus, the locals indulge in some of the most primitive festival experiences – drinking, dancing and celebrating the phallus. Here, the first day of Lent has become a small extension of the Tyrnavian carnival. The residents of Týrnavos participate enthusiastically in an unusual celebration of a pagan tradition associated with fertility symbols: the “Bouraní”, a well supported local tradition. The lively celebrations derive from ancient Dionysian rites. In ancient Greece, a similar ritual was enacted during the festivals held in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine and ritual madness. In Thessaly, a wine-producing region, it is hardly surprising that an affectionate attitude towards the god of divine insobriety has survived till the present day. 

During the “Bouraní” celebrations, phallic replicas are openly displayed, while bizarre customs take place, including drinking tsípouro (a strong local spirit) from phallic-shaped vessels, making obscene gestures, singing choruses of ribald carnival songs, and playing sexual jokes on other people. All this creates an atmosphere charged with excitement – maybe not suitable for the easily offended. Everything revolves around the “cooking of bouraní”. The “bourani people” gather at the small church of Profitis Elias and cook a vegetable soup based on spinach and spiced with vinegar. Every year, people of all ages –even children-, Greeks and foreigners flock to this small Thessalian town to participate in this celebration of fertility and prosperity. 

As you wander around Týrnavos, be prepared to encounter visitors lining up to have their photo taken sitting on the phallus-topped throne in the centre of the town. And while all this may come as a major shock, when the evening bell for church rings, everything stops and the fast begins. Clean Monday is the only time such behaviour is permitted. It's just a custom. 

Are you brave enough to check it out?

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