Originally published February 2018 updated January 2019
Carnivals are held all over the world, as a child I have very happy memories of village carnivals in Devon. The tradition in Greece dates back to the ancient Greek gods and Dionysus. In spring there would be parades in the name of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and fertility. Some say that the Greeks invented carnival. Today the tradition continues but is now closely linked to the Orthodox Calendar and Lent.
Known in Greece as apokries (απόκριες) the tradition of carnival takes place over 3 weeks before Lent. Depending on where you are you will sometimes see posters calling it καρναβάλι, karnaváli or karnivale. It’s a preparation for Lent and originally would have been the final feast of winter. A time to eat up all the meat and dairy food that otherwise wouldn’t keep and a time to wait for the new harvest in spring.
Officially carnival starts 40 days before Lent with the opening of the Triodion a sacred book. This isn’t generally celebrated outside the church, the first week of the carnival is a religious week and if you are in Greece during the first week of apokries you won’t see any signs of carnival parades.
Burnt Thursday – Tsiknopempti – February 8th 2018Today the first open signs of partying start on “Burnt Thursday” or “Tsiknopempti” when you’ll find lots of BBQ’s being lit up and cooking lots and lots of meat. 11 days before the start of Lent it’s all about grilling up and eating meat. Tavernas will be busy and village streets smoky as every home lights a BBQ. The whole week is called ‘Kreatini’ or “Κρεοφάγου” meaning meat week. The weekend after Tsiknopempti will also see the start of carnival events and parades with more parties. Traditionally the Sunday of Tsiknopempti weekend is the last day you’re allowed to eat meat and is known as meat-eating Sunday.
Main Carnival Weekend – February 16th-18th 2018Carnival is a day when little girls get to be princesses, boys become superheroes and adults get to behave like children. All over Greece, there will be carnivals during the weekend with the big main carnival being the Sunday. The biggest of the Greek carnivals are held in Patras on the mainland closely followed by Rethymnon on Crete. The numbers are such that they have separate days for the children’s carnival with the main event always taking place on the last Sunday of the carnival season. The last week of Carnival is also known as “cheese week”, “white week” or “Tyrini” it’s the week to consume and use up all the cheese, eggs and milk. Back home it’s traditionally the week when we have “pancake day” or “Shrove Tuesday” for the same reason to use up everything in preparation for Lent.
Clean Monday – Kathari Deftera – Monday 19th February 2018Although it’s officially the first day of Lent ‘clean Monday’ still has a sense of carnival and partying about it. Throughout Greece it’s traditional to fly kites on ‘clean Monday’, it’s also a day of eating nothing that has a backbone so the smell of grilling octopus fills the air. Menus in tavernas will offer squid and the Greek fish roe dip taramasalata. There is also a bread that’s unique to clean Monday, made without yeast or olive oil, here on the island it’s flavoured with aniseed. Lagana bread is a flat bread, it’s just a shame it’s only available on one day of the year. In Rhodes, there’s also another carnival that takes place on ‘clean Monday’ in Archangelos, a street party where everyone blacks up, there will be costumes, lots of loud music and you’ll either get blacked or have flour thrown at you. Barrels are lit in the street, old vehicles drive up and down with more music blaring and it’s a great party atmosphere. You can find out a little more about the unique way clean Monday is celebrated here.
Tsiknopempti in the hillsWe celebrated Tsiknopempti with friends, we had a long walk in the woods above Laerma. We started at Thari Monastery with lots of dogs and people and walked along the hills to Elpida’s Ranch for a BBQ. Everyone brought along something for the feast and the weather was warm enough to sit and eat outside. It really felt like spring is in the air. Elpida’s Ranch is a great place to visit if you’re on the island, find out more about the ranch here. We took so many pictures of the dogs I’ll be posting them on a separate post soon.
Carnival in Pylona VillageSunday 11th we celebrated with a carnival in the village. They decided to hold it a week earlier than the main carnival in Greece this year so that all the surrounding villages could join in. A really fun day for all the family with lots of costumes, souvlaki, loud music, dancing and plenty of drinking. The village provides free beer and the whole place has a wonderful party atmosphere.
Greek Carnival Dates
If you are planning on visiting Greece during carnival season here are the dates for 2019:
- Triodion: Sunday, February 17th
- Tsiknopempti or “Burnt Thursday”: February 28th
- Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, March 1st – Sunday, March 3rd
- Cheesefare Thursday: March 7th
- Main Carnival Weekend: Friday, March 8th-Sunday March 10th
- Clean Monday: March 11th