Shaking the night away: Bell Roads 2019

Winter and Spring. Darkness and Light. Perish and Flourish. Death and Life.

There is no such time as Spring when the line that divides one from another becomes thinner. As the days began lasting longer and the light was prevailing on the shadows, farmer and shepherds started to get worried. Would the earth be generous? Would the flock grow stronger? Would life take over or would darkness cast itself over the world again?

“If they could scare the bad spirits lingering in the shadows, they would get the richest harvest”

How to scare your Demons

These men knew how unpredictable nature could be, and that’s why they found their own way to secure the best outcome. If they could scare the bad spirits lingering in the shadows, they would get the richest harvest and the healthiest animals. And cast away all the fears that came with the winter’s winds.

How? Making as much noise as possible.

From Sardinia to the tiny islands of the Aegean Sea – passing through Germany, Romania and Bulgaria – these same fears created rites and celebrations that are extremely similar. Celebrations that, once per year, are gathering together in Thessaloniki for the Bell Roads Festival.

The strong, chilling wind that blew over the Paralìa felt like the last attempt of winter to hold on a little longer. It was as if it just didn’t want to let the spring in. Suddenly, a loud and rhythmic sound started to awake the people standing in front of the sea. One after another, the masks showed to the public repeating their millenary rite one more time.

Traditional masks and costumes

Goat Pelts and Bronze Bells

Dressed up in goat pelts or sheepskin, with heavy livestock bells wrapped all around the body, they started their dance. A primeval rhythm moved their pace, making the people around them follow as the metallic sound of a hundred bells filled the air around Aristotelous Square.

Such displays have their roots in the everyday life of rural societies. Shepherds used to attach a bell to their sticks to scare the snakes that were hiding in the grass or under a rock with the sound. In the rite, the same method would cast away evil. For the same reason, men would mimic animals. They were hoping that their rituals would translate into a great number of actual goats and sheep in their barn.

People used to do these things because they believed that imitating natural phenomena will make them real. That’s why the dance movements resemble sowing and ploughing. There are also other acts related to birth and fertility. The most obvious one is the fake marriage that dancers stage around a couple of young men that play groom and bride. Along with that, there is a whole plethora of sexual innuendo, from bells shaken as they were genitalia, to wooden sticks carved with phallic symbols.


Moments from the Bell Roads Parade

At the roots of Europe

Some of the Dromena (the Greek word for the performances) are playful and satyrical while other masks behave in an aggressive or disturbing way. The various styles demonstrate the unpredictability of the natural phenomena and their power upon the human being. But since there is a clear difference between the colorful Meriou from Sochos and the fearful German Klausen and Bärbele, the most impressive thing is how much they have in common.

It’s all right in front of your eyes. The fake marriage. The resurrection of nature. The fertility rites and all mankind’s attempt to earn the favor of nature. These are concerns that every European population expresses in the very same way. The best statement to say it loud: it doesn’t matter how far away we live from each other, we have more things in common than what divides us. It starts from our traditions. We all share roots that can overcome borders, bringing us together in our common home called Europe.

See an video impression of the festival made by Umberto Zeverini here:

Post Author: Francesco Cirica

Francesco Cirica
I am a 28 years old Italian guy, who quietly looks at you from the corner of the room. A cinephile from the bottom of my heart, I love stories and all means to share a good tale, from chatting around a campfire to books, video games and Social Media.

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