Masquerades are manifestations of a fertility nature and have extremely ancient origins. Their purpose is to ensure health, the germination of the crops and the fruitfulness of the land, like the ancient Dionysian celebrations. Some masquerades are enacted during the Dodecahemero, the twelve days from Christmas Eve to the Epiphany (Arapides at Nikisiani, Kavala and Babouyeri at Kali Vrysi, Drama), others during Carnival time (Sochos Carnival, Boules at Naousa, and the Yeros and Korela on the island of Skyros), and still others on May Day.

Popular legend has it that at these times – which coincide with the winter rotations of the sun – there is a preponderance of evil spirits on earth. Masqueraders during the Dodecahemero and the Carnival disguise themselves to imitate the evil forces of winter and darkness in order to drive them from the people’s homes and fields, thereby ensuring that the crops take root and bear fruit come spring. Even today, the tradition of masquerading – a universal and timeless custom – retains many elements of the religions practiced in Greek antiquity, Roman times and the Byzantine era.

The basic components of these masquerades are old clothing, animal skins, masks with animal or other features and, primarily, a great many animal bells. Both the bells and the personifications of the masqueraders are characterized by scholars as “apotropaic” symbols – i.e. used to ward off evil.