I grew up Catholic. Although my parents allowed me to explore many other religions, Catholicism was our religious foundation, and I was well-versed in the rites and traditions… at least that’s what I thought.
Somehow, I missed the Lenten tradition of the Bourani festival.
The infamous Bourani festival in the tiny Greek town of Tirnavos traditionally involves residents descending on the town square with huge phalluses to celebrate fertility…. right at the beginning of Lent. Why didn’t my Sunday school teacher ever tell me about this?!
The custom of “Burani” takes place on the day of (Clean Monday), the first days of Lent. This customs have made Tirnavos famous. It’s roots began as a pagan fertility festival in honor of the god Dionysus.
Shrove Monday is a day of merry moral freedom or laxity of morals during which the rules of decent behavior are temporarily violated. The use of sexual and love symbols are combined with the traditional folk manifestations. Strictly speaking, the “bourani” is a folk fare but in essence, it is a phallus festival that symbolizes the reproduction and fertility.
First, the inhabitants of the town go to the country church of Prophet Elijah in a free wide area, in the north of the town. Each group spreads a table with various dishes on the ground and a big flagon of wine or “ouzo” (oh, how I LOVE ouzo!) or “tsipouro” with water.
At the same time, they light a fire to prepare the “Bourani”, a spinach soup. After the “Bourani” has been served to the “initiates”, the celebration begins. A parade, dancing, singing, joking and teasing each other using obscene language.
Everyone who passes by the Bourani must stop and stir the soup with a long wooden ladle and take a sip of soup straight from the ladle, then drink a shot of tsipouro from a ceramic penis-shaped tumbler.
Next to the cauldron, there is throne in the shape of a… you guessed it – penis. Attendees bring their own penises to join in on the fun. Well… their own extra penises. Made from anything – fiberglass, cloth, clay, vegetables, even bread! Some even wear penis-themed masks.
The festival was traditionally only attended by penis-wielding men. However, the creation of the Bourani Society, in 1979, saw women enjoying the festivities. Now, women of all ages enjoy the perverted fun.
Because of the pagan roots, the Greek Orthodox Church has tried to put a halt to this festival, but, just like a healthy penis, you can’t keep the Bourani Festival from coming. 😉