Apokria the Greek Carnival
Apokria, the Greek Carnival, is celebrated all over Greece
Each year, a lot of ancient traditions for Apokria are being revived in Greece. Usually the month of February and early March is the carnival month. The Apokria season in Greece lasts for 3 weeks during which period Greeks really enjoy themselves dressing up, organizing parties and eat a lot of meat!
Apokria dates are tied to Greek Orthodox Easter, which is usually different from Western Easter. Every few years, both calendars will coincide, so do check if you want to attend both. Only the Greek Orthodox carnival dates are widely celebrated in Greece.
The Triodion aka Apokria
The Triodion is the Apokria period of three weeks before the beginning of Lent. Named after the book containing three sacred odes lectured in churches during the three weeks period of the Carnival.
– 1st week of the Triodion named «Prosphoni» (Προσφωνήσιμος – Preannouncement Week),
– 2nd week of the Triodion named «Kreatini» (Κρεατινή – Meatfare Week),
– 3rd week of the Triodion named «Tyrofagou» (Τυροφάγου – Cheese-fare Week).
The word «Apokria» means «to remove meat», since meat is prohibited during Lent. During the 3rd week of Apokria («Tyrofagou») for Greek Orthodox Christians only the consumption of dairy products is permitted. It’s the week just before Lent and this alimentary regime is a kind of body and spirit preparation for Lent.
Why Greeks love Apokria?
Well we can say that they invented it. Most carnival related events are connected with the ancient worship of Dionysus the Greek god of wine and divine intoxication. During Apokria excessive consumption of alcohol, meat, and other foods proscribed during Lent is extremely common.
Other common features of carnival include mock battles (food fights), social satire and mockery of authorities, abusive language and a general reversal of everyday rules and norms.
The processions, costuming and feasting all derive from ancient ceremonies honoring Dionysus and other Greek gods and goddesses.
Important Dates in the Greek Apokria
– Apokria begins on a Saturday evening with the opening of the Triodion, a book containing three sacred odes. This is a religious moment not generally observed outside of the church itself.
– Tsiknopempti is the Thursday of the 2nd week of Apokria, during which large amounts of meat are traditionally consumed prior to the arrival of Lent, the fasting season leading up to Easter.
The strange name of Tsiknopempti derives from Pempti (Πέμπτη) the fifth day of the week (Greeks count Sunday as the first day of the week) and the word tsikna (Τσίκνα) wich refers to the smell of grilled meat.
Tradition has it that on this day everyone prepares and enjoys their favorite meat dishes and typically a cloud of smoke where it is being cooked or barbecued. So Tsiknopempti can be translated as «Smoke Thursday» or «Smoked Thursday», «Barbecue Thursday» or «Grilled Thursday».
Most Greeks gather with friends at home or go to tavernas, in order to «tsiknisoun»! This means, they will «eat meat, smell the ‘tsikna’, drink and dance»!
Some restaurants and virtually every traditional tavern will prepare special menus for Tsiknopempti. By far, the most common item will be some variation of souvlaki – meat on a stick. Souvlaki is available almost everywhere.
In the streets of big cities (Athens, Thessaloniki) you must walk carefully to avoid walking into an unexpected grill mostly obscured by smoke, sharing the already narrow streets and walkways!
– Friday, Saturday, and Sunday preceding «Clean Monday» (or Ash Monday) usually offer vigorous parties, parades, and traditional events wherever Apokria is celebrated.
In larger towns or cities known for Apokria, such as Patras or Rethimno, the previous weekend will also be filled with activities and parades.
The Apokria ends with the «burning of the Vasilias Karnavalos» (The «King of the Carnival» is more often represented by a big doll made of papier-mâché over a wooden or wire structure. It is carried in a tow or at the top of a truck, and presides the carnival with a royal court of dancers. While a doll, it conserves its traditional features: flamboyant and colorful clothing, a smiling or joyful face and a prominent belly. Usualy he be burnt at the end of the festivities, also being its climax. The exact same tradition can be found in South America, where «Rey Momo» -from the Greek god Momus (μῶμος) used to be burnt at the end of the festivities).
– The last Sunday of the Apokria period is known as «Cheese-eating Sunday» or Tyrofagos as no meat products are allowed at this time. Pasta/macaroni is often served on this day.
Surprisingly enough, the word «macaroni», as well as the product it self, is not Italian, but comes from Greece and the Greek words macaria or «blessed» (makaria was also a kind of barley broth which was served to commemorate the dead), and aionia or «eternal». Thus, «macaroni».
Keep in mind that the preceding day, Saturday, there is a special service for the dead in Orthodox churches, and part of the rites include the making of grain dishes, probably a survival of the ancient rites of Demeter. Thus, “macaroni”.
– Kathari Deftera («Clean Monday» or Ash Monday), is actually the first day of Lent. While a holiday atmosphere still prevails, it’s a family-oriented day where picnics, and kite-flying prevail.
The foods consumed are all «pure», without the shedding of blood. But this allows for cuttlefish and squid, fish roe to be consumed. Lagana is a flatbread traditionally served on this day.
2018 Apokria Dates
Triodion: Sunday, January 28th
Tsiknopempti: February 8th
Cheesefare Thursday: February 15th
Main Carnival Weekend: Friday, February 16th-Sunday February 18th
Clean Monday: February 19th
Καλές Απόκριες! (kales apokries!) = enjoy the carnival!
Καλή Τσικνοπέμπτη! (kali tsiknopempti) = Have a nice Tsiknopempti!
Τσίκνα (tsikna) = smell of grilled meat
Τσικνίζω (tsiknizo) = to celebrate the Tsiknopempti
Ο μασκαράς (o mascaras) = the masquerade
Μασκαρεύομαι (maskarevomai) = to dress up for carnival
Τι θα ντυθείς τις Απόκριες; (ti tha dytheis tis apokries?) = what will you dress up as for carnival?