The western Macedonian village of Vevcani held its annual New Year's carnival this week, a spectacle that allows the heavily Orthodox locals to show off their creativity and indulge in some unbridled paganism.
It's also a great opportunity to enjoy some scenes of rolicking good times.
Dedicated to St. Basil the Great (Vasilij), the carnival turns the sleepy little mountainside municipality into a "theater without borders in which every house is part of a street scene with masked actors performing their games."
Vevcani's official website
lists three traditional varieties of mask to be worn by participants -- likenesses of a bride or groom, a musician, or Augustine the Stupid. (I'm told that the phrase "Don't play Augustine the Fool" is a common phrase in Macedonia that translates roughly into "Don't act like a fool.")
But organizers boast that masked revelers "have unlimited creative freedom for 'rapture' and to 'turn the world upside-down' in the spirit of improvisation, criticism, and irony."
This year's parades included frozen peasants, astronauts, and multiple Santa Clauses with reindeer.
There was also at least one mock funeral to lampoon a long-running source of regional friction.
That's the element that caught the attention of Euronews:
The station offers a video snippet
from this year's carnival that many Macedonians are sure to cringe at. The 20-second report highlights the smattering of participants who were trying to provoke Athens, even calling it "a politically sensitive festival."
"Residents of Vevcani use their pagan celebration to poke fun at Athens by staging events like mock funerals," the reporter says, although the vast majority of the street theater on display was far more innocuous.
And second, Euronews insists on calling it "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," the compromise solution forged in 1993 to allow the United Nations to sidestep the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece, which also has a region called Macedonia.
The municipality issues "carnival passports" to visitors upon arrival -- another element seen by some as a dig at the name spat.
Most sources suggest the Vevcani event dates back at least 14 centuries (others claim as many as 16).
The proceedings -- and the centrality of masks in it all -- are said to stem from an ancient tale of boy meets girl, according to "Balkan Inside
The story begins just like any other love story. The best-looking bachelor was engaged to the best-looking maid in the village, before he went abroad to work. While working abroad, he fell and his face was disfigured. When he was to return to the village, the boy pleaded to his friends that they all should wear masks and hide their faces, so that his fiancee could get used to his hideous face more painlessly. As a result, the Carnival was born.
For Vasilica (Orthodox New Year) nothing happens according to a scenario or protocol. The entire village, the houses are part of the stage, and all people are actors or spectators. In the afternoon, two companies form: one from the upper hamlet and another from the lower hamlet, which meet in the village square and show off with their allusions.
-- Andy Heil