Sochos (Lagkadas Municipality, Thessaloniki County)
“Meriou” Cheesefare Saturday-Ash/Clean Monday
The bell bearers of Sochos are called “Meriou”. Masqueraded group of friends roam the streets of the village walking rhythmically, bouncing and shaking their bells to awaken the sprouting forces of nature. It's mostly men, but nowadays several women and children dress up. Internally they wear shirts with cuffs, that is, colourful knitted edgings of the sleeves and a white shirt with folded sleeves so the cuffs would be visible. In the past women tried to make a particular pattern of cuffs to recognize in the crowd each of them, her husband. Afterwards, they wear pants and sleeveless coat of goat-pelt with black fur, thick woollen socks and leather rustic shoes. A red woven belt which is placed crosswise on the shoulders supports the bells at the waist. On the chest they put a knitted shawl with bright colours (mostly red). They cover their head with “kalpaki”, which consists of the facemask and the head mask. It’s made of black woollen cloth, called “sagiaki”. The facemask is decorated with multi-coloured circular thin braids and put hair from a horse's tail for whiskers. On the forehead it bears an embroidered cross. The “kalpaki” ends up in tall conical head mask with colourful paper ribbons and a fox tail on top. The masqueraders hold in their hands a walking stick and a bottle of ouzo. The bells are five creating a “dozen” as they call it: a large wrought one (“batali”) that is tied at the waist and back and four cast bells (“kypria”), two on the rear and two at the front, in a size order from largest to smallest. They are selected with special care to be “matched” to produce harmonious sounds with different pitch of cast bells and the “bass” tone, as they say, to be kept from the wrought bell. Every father believes it’s his moral obligation to provide for his son a good “dozen”. Indeed, we find the “dozens” among the items included in wills. The dressing of “Meriou” is done with the help of a few loved ones. At the end of they wish health and a good yield. The mother, grandmother or wife sprinkles him with a little water from a metal container and pours the rest down she wishes “as the water flows, thus, may your road be free", a common practise at goodbyes.
After Epiphany day, Meriou occasionally begin to appear in the neighborhoods. Extensive is, however, their presence during the Cheesefare Weekend and on Ash Monday. Groups of masqueraders wander the village houses, come in to shops and taverns and offer people the drink they carry. Meriou often bow their heads forwards, approaching the tail of the head mask to the ground, a mimic act of fertilization of the land for the fruiting growth of their crops. The tail of the wild animal is the “trophy” of the harnessing f nature by man. The groups sing love songs, connected to the performance-“dromeno”, such as the characteristic “What did I do wrong the poor thing?” Each singing note alternates with possible simultaneous ringing of bells, “relieving” with a loud sound the grievance of the lyrics.
Beyond the disguise of Meriou, residents of Sochos, just days after the Twelve Days of Christmas, begin to masquerade as “arapkes “, that is, devise disguises that can cause fear and laughter and they make evening raids on homes of friends.
On the evening of Cheesefare Saturday the residents of Sochos light in three neighborhoods three major fires (“zapous”) to expel evil and diseases with the purgative power of the huge flame.
On Sunday morning the representation of a simulated traditional wedding is taking place. All the typical procedure is carried out, from the preparation of the bride and groom to the “crowning” and the wedding party in the village square with the participation of the viewers.
On Ash Monday, after the church service, they celebrate the custom of forgiveness, “Prostavani”. The younger offer an orange to the elders-usually they visit the home of the godfather or godmother- and kiss the hand to ask forgiveness for their sins or omissions. In the past, offering a rare fruit and brought from afar commemorated the elders. In the village square a crowd is assembled, to which unmarried girls offer pies. A dance begins accompanied by clarinet and tabor players. At noon the parade of masqueraders is taking place: groups with varied disguises participate, such as the characters of the wedding parody and at the peak of the parade are the Meriou, who walk towards the central square shaking their bells. In such a deafening way they get to the square, where they accentuate the sound of bells, alternating it with carnival love songs.
Local tradition attributes the custom of bell bearing of Meriou to the legend of the siege that Saint Theodoros and his soldiers suffered in the area and to the trick he devised to wear goat pelts to break the siege. That is also the reason why in the past they celebrated the custom on the feast day of Saint Theodoros. The performance is included in the broader context of salutary ceremonies, which were held by farmers and stockbreeders of the past in the transitional period of the winter to the season of vegetation and fruitfulness in order to strengthen the sprouting forces of nature. It's a strong belief of the residents of Sochos that a good performance of the custom paves the way for a successful agricultural and pastoral production.