“Gaitanaki ”, the Greek word for “Maypole”, is an old carnival custom that still prevails to this day and combines dancing and singing. It is quite common in several places all over Greece.
Today, this Greek custom mostly takes place during carnival season, though there have been testimonies claiming its former appearance on Epiphany Day.
In Greece, the word Carnival refers to the three-week time before the advent of Easter feast. It is a composite word and means the continence on meat, that is, a religious feast in order for the Christians to prepare for Easter.
The Greek “Maypole” is also combined with dress-ups while joy and entertainment are its main characteristics. It is, therefore, what, in other countries, is called Carnival.
The custom bears its name from the colorful ribbons hanging from a big pole named “Gaitania”.
A pole, as well as 12 colorful ribbons are necessary. D.I.Y. (Do it yourself)
The ribbons need to be fixed on top of the pole.
Dance it! There have to be 12 dancers, equal to the number of the ribbons, holding them from their very tip while dancing around the pole.
A 13 th person holds the pole in the centre of the circle formed by the dancers. It is said that number 12 symbolizes the 12 months of the year.
Note : “Gaitanaki” can be danced with even less than 12 people, just as long as the number of the dancers is even (for example 8 or 10).
The dancers form 6 couples. Each couple faces another one and they all move simultaneously. Perform it!
In each couple, one person moves clockwise, while the other moves in the opposite direction each time making one movement towards and one away from the circle.
This way, during the dance, each dancer alternately passes by the other’s right and left side, making the ribbons intertwine on the pole, thus, creating a rather beautiful pattern. When the dancers come close enough to the pole, the direction of the dance diverts and the dancers try to unsnarl the ribbons. ……………………………… Then, they all repeat the same movement reversely.
Be careful It is not as easy as it seems! It is rather difficult until all the dancers become familiar with the steps they have to make in order to fold and unfold themselves without making a mistake. Even if just one person gets confused on the way, it can be very hard to loosen the ribbons.
Note: For some, this circular dance with the interweaving of ribbons symbolizes the circle of life, the alternation between happiness and sadness, between winter and spring, between life and death and vice versa; that is, it refers to the changes in mood, seasons and conditions.