Greece’s Carnival season, known as “Apokries,” is a period which traditionally begins ten weeks before Greek Orthodox Easter and culminates on the weekend before “Clean Monday,” (Ash Monday) the first day of Lent, which is on February 27 this year.
This coming weekend, on February 25-26 ,carnival celebrations in Greece reach their climax, a feast of fun celebrated all over the country with masquerades and parties.
Greek Carnival or Apokries is a 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 into 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 the Kreatini 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. Tsiknopemptee is also the day when the parties start and the first masquerades for the Greek Carnival make their appearance.
The last week before Lent is called Cheese Week, White Week or Tyrini. Only dairy and fish are allowed during that week, no meat. The carnival celebrations end 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 the modern carnival, street parties and parades take place everywhere. The most famous carnivals in Greece are in Patras, Rethymnon (Crete), Galaxidi, Xanti and Kastoria.
Clean Monday and Koulouma
The carnival ends on Kathara Deftera or Clean Monday. On this day, the fasting begins and the Koulouma or (traditions related to Lent) start. On Clean Monday, most 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. Many local bakeries are open on Clean Monday and sell this special bread.
lagana ( Clean Monday bread )
halvas ( a cornstarch sweet )
taramas ( a red kind of caviar )