Apokries, Tsiknopemptee, Kathara Deftera... Carnival in Greece is full of religious traditions and a great period for foodies. It is also a big party just as anywhere else in the world full of joy and fun. Did you know that the Patras Carnival, 'Patrino karnavali' is one of the biggest in Europe?
Preparing for Lent
Greek Carnival or ‘Apokries’ is a true family celebration with street parties, parades, and masquerades. Carnival ( from Latin: ‘carne’ and ‘vale’ = ‘goodbye to meat’) marks the days before the fasting begins. The word Apokries in Greek comes from the words apochi and kreas (abstinence + meat) so, it means avoiding meat.
The Greek carnival is divided in 3 weeks, all preparing for the fasting. The first week opens the carnival and starts with a specific church celebration. The second week is called ‘Kreatini’ in which one is allowed to eat meat every day. The Thursday in that week is called ‘Tsiknopemptee’. ‘Tsikno’ means the smell of grilled meat and ‘Pempti’ means Thursday. This Thursday is a day to take your family out to a tavern and eat grilled meat.
Tsikopemptee falls on 8 February 2018.
Tsiknopemptee is also the day when the parties start and the first masquerades make their appearance. The last week before Lent is called the Cheese Week, White Week or ‘Tyrini’. Only dairy and fish are allowed, no meat. The carnival ends on ‘Kathara Deftera’ or Clean Monday.
Ancient Greek roots
Carnival is related to the pagan rituals of the ancient worship celebrations to Dionysus, the God of wine, agriculture, fertility, dance, and fun. The ancient Greeks held this wine and dance festival in February/March to celebrate spring. There was a parade with a Dionysos figure, fancy dress, and masks.
During modern carnival street parties and parades take place everywhere. The best-known is in Patras, including a children carnival with a large parade of school children. Other famous carnivals are in Rethymnon (Crete), Galaxidi, Xanti and Kastoria.
The Dance of the ‘Gaitanaki’ is a unique part of Greek carnival: it is a group dance of men and women with colorful ribbons. One person holds the pole and twelve dancers hold each one of the twelve colorful ribbons that are fixed on the top of the pole and hang from it. Tradition says that the twelve ribbons symbolize the twelve months of the year.
In 2018 Greek carnival runs from Sunday 28 January to Sunday 18 February.
Clean Monday and Koulouma
The carnival ends on ‘Kathara Deftera’ or Clean Monday. Fasting begins and the ‘Koulouma’ (traditions related to Lent) start. On Clean Monday, Greeks leave the city for the countryside to spent family time, to have a picnic and to fly a kite. The traditional food eaten on ‘Koulouma’ is ‘taramas’, a red kind of caviar, ‘halvas’, a cornstarch sweet and a Clean Monday bread called ‘lagana’. Kyria Sarakosti is a wonderful tradition that helps us to mark the weeks of the Lent. Children make a paper doll or bake a bread one called Lady Lent (Kyra Sarakosti) who has seven legs, representing the number of weeks in Lent. Each week, a leg is removed as we count down to Easter. Find out more about Kyra Sarakosti and a recipe to bake one in my post about kyra sarakosti.
Clean Monday falls on Monday 19 February.
Have you been in Greece during Easter and did you enjoy it?
Want to hear more about Clean Monday? In this interview with Dutch National Radio (in Dutch!) I explain more about kites and koulouma!
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