Greek Carnival Season traditionally gets underway 10 weeks before Greek Orthodox Easter and culminates on the weekend before.
It is a period of masquerading, eating, drinking and dancing, which reaches its peak with extravagant parades of giant floats and colorful street groups. Apokries is one of the most fabulous times to be in Greece and is celebrated by everyone, young and old.
The Greek name Apokries means abstention from meat, because after that, the period of Lent begins. Clean Monday (Ash Monday) is the first day of lent. During Lent in Greece, the people fast for 40 days, they eat no meat or animal products.
In ancient Greece, the festival in honour of Dionysus the ancient Greek god of wine, fun and fertility, took place in early Spring, as Dionysus symbolised life’s rebirth after Winter. Today, carnival is held in the same period but not on a fixed date, as it depends on the moveable feast of Easter.
In certain local carnivals, like the one held in Tyrnavos, fertility and the phallus are celebrated, and related songs are sung. The biggest and well known carnival that is organized in Greece is that of Patras in the Peloponnese. The Rethymno Carnival is becoming increasingly popular and another well-known Cretan carnival is the one held in Malia. The Heraklion Carnival was very famous at the turn of the 20th Century but sadly it gradually declined.
During the second week of Apokries, known as Kreatini (Meat Week), meat can be eaten every day, even on the traditional fast days (Wednesday and Friday).
The Thursday on the second week of carnival is known as Tsiknopempti (Smokey Thursday). This year Tsiknopempti falls on 24th February and is when the festivities begin. Traditionally, everyone must cook meat so that the smoke or tsikna fills the air and everybody knows it’s a well known feast-day. That’s how Tsiknopempti got its name.
On Tsiknopempti the first masqueraders make their appearance and the first carnival parties are held. The bars and clubs are packed in the towns and villages, and you will see all sorts of wonderful costumes being worn on the young and old. The third week is called Tyrini (Cheese Week) – people can eat dairy products and fish but not meat.
Apokria ends on Kathari Deftera (Clean Monday), the first day of Lent and this year falls on Monday 7th March. Clean Monday or Koulouma is celebrated all across Greece after the last day of the Carnival and it is the last day when people are allowed to eat meat, coinciding with the start of Lent.
Clean Monday is much loved by children, as the custom is to fly kites. Kites symbolize the ascension of the soul to God and the start of its purification by reaching close to him. People used to make their own kites and it took a lot of skill to make your kite fly higher than the rest.
The name of Clean Monday comes from the cleaning, purification of the body and soul through fasting. On this day, the custom is to eat Seafood such as Octopus and Kalamari, Taramasalata, Gigantes (beans), Fava Dip as well as unleavened bread called Lagana and Horta (Boiled Greens).
For dessert Halva is traditionally served, it is a sweet made of tahini, and sugar, often combined with nuts or chocolate and baked in a square or cylindrical shape.
Have you visited Greece during Apokries? if so, tell us your experiences of it on our Facebook page.
And if you have not yet sampled Apokries, start that journey today and book your holiday now.