Boules – Naoussa tradition with deep roots
The Boules is an unusual tradition with deep roots, which over the centuries has combined myths, religion, folklore, and historic qualities. It is believed to date back to ancient Dionysian celebrations of fertility and saluting spring, “Anthestiria” known for their symbolic rituals.
During the Ottoman Empire and Turkish occupation which lasted until 1912 in some areas, people in Naoussa turned to Boules in order to frame and accept through mocking and risky resistance their enslavement to the Turks and ultimately find joy in the paradox of being Christian and descendant of an ancient pagan God.
It was in 1705, when the character of the event changed, when the Turks came to the village of Naoussa to recruit forcibly children for their military unit composed of Christians, contrary to the previous status quo of peaceful coexistence. Families resisted and the Turks in response killed them. A year later, forty days prior to the Lent that precedes Orthodox Easter, the villagers of Naoussa covered their faces with masks originating the Armatoliki costume, and followed the ancient routes with wild dances and loud songs as a memorial tribute to the dead. The ritual had an additional purpose; to fool the Turkish, making them believe that there was a wedding taking place, whereas in reality the bride was a man and the feast was a trick to collect money, food and guns for the rebels who lived up in the mountains.
Today, three hundred years later, Boules follows an unchanged course with strict rules and principles passing from one generation to the other. Participants are exclusively unmarried, young men; the dancing repertoire consists of the same specific dances. The costume comprises of the same clothes, a red fez with a black tassel, a wide-sleeved shirt, the kilt which is a short foustanella, a vest with silver accessories, coins and jewelry sewed by the elder, and of course the mask made of a thick cloth, plaster and beeswax.
The mask is the most important element of the costume. In antiquity its white color symbolized the winter and the red cheeks the rebirth of nature. During the Ottoman occupation white referred to the mortality of Hellenism and red represented the hope for freedom and revolution. Once the mask is put on, it cannot be removed until the ceremony ends. And the ceremony ends after many hours of dancing, drinking wine and sharing wishes, teases and mirth with the beloved friends, relatives, and guests.