Carnival celebrations, or “apokries” in Greek, have already begun all over Greece and people of all ages are looking forward to masquerading themselves, celebrate and engage in pranks. The celebrations of music, dance and colors mark a unique three-week-long period, commencing 60 days before Easter, while gradually bidding farewell to the consumption of non-fasting products and preparing the faithful for the upcoming Great Lent.
The Three Weeks of “Triodion”
The season is also called “triodion,” named after the liturgical book which is used by the Greek Orthodox Church during the masses from that point on and up to Easter’s Holy Week. According to the Church, triodion gives the chance to all Orthodox Christians to indulge for the last time in any sins they wish, before commencing with the fasting period. Therefore, during the three weeks of the Carnival, many restrictions written down by the Church are lifted.
The first week of the triodion is called “profoni,” as people used to loudly proclaim the arrival of the carnival season. According to tradition, during this week, people prepare their pigs to be slaughtered for the coming week, which is fully devoted to consuming meat products.
This second week, called “Kreatini” after the Greek word for meat “kreas,” contains one of the season’s most anticipated day, the so-called “Tsiknopempti.” People traditionally go out to Greek tavernas or restaurants, so as to eat big chunks barbecued beef or any other meat products, thus getting the last chance to consume this product before the third week of the Greek Carnival kicks in.
During the final week before the beginning of the Great Lent, which bears the name “Tyrini” after the Greek word for cheese “tyri,” the consumption of meat is no longer allowed. From non-fasting foods, only dairy products can still be eaten. “Cheese Sunday,” the last day of triodion’s final week, in which the effigy of the Carnival King is symbolically burnt so as to say goodbye to the preceding celebrations, is followed by Clean Monday and the Great Lent, a period of strict fasting and preparation for Easter’s Holy Week.
Definitely, nowadays, many of the above prescriptions issued by tradition and the Greek Orthodox Church are no longer followed. Greeks, though, tend to follow some of these customs as loyal as possible.
Carnival Celebrations around Greece
Carnival is not exclusively associated with eating and its restrictions, but rather mostly with with joy and laughter. The diverse celebrations, which date to Antiquity and to the worship of god Dionysus — the god of wine and celebration during the ancient Eleusinian mysteries — are held glamorously all over the country, with some cities being proud of holding the most renowned carnival parades.
Greece’s biggest Carnival parade has been definitely attributed to the city of Patras for 180 years now. Around 40,000 carnival enthusiasts from all over Greece pay a visit to the celebrations each year, which is considered to be one of the greatest in Europe. Just like the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, preparations for the Patras Carnival are held throughout the year. The celebrations, which bear a strong Italian influence, reach their peak on the last Sunday of triodion with the big chariots parade and the burning of the Carnival king at night.
The Carnival in the city of Xanthi is the biggest festival in Northern Greece, taking place yearly since 1926. The participants at the Xanthi Carnival, amount to 20,000, burn the Carnival King on the banks of the local Kosinthos River, while children can attend the famous “Baldafun,” a disco club just for kids.
For the city of Naousa in Northern Greece, Carnival is a time of enthusiasm and spontaneity enriched by unorganized satiric carnival celebrations. The custom of “Giannitsari & Boules” is the most renowned happening. Young men are impersonating the male and female figures, thus providing unique moments of laughter and joy, while being accompanied by the music of traditional instruments.
The famous Carnival of Corfu counts 450 years of existence and has its roots in the Middle Age, when the island’s Venetian conquerors brought this custom from their hometown. The most famous happening of the Carnival is the big parade taking place on the central streets of the city. Another custom is the enactment of the “Petegoletsia,” a word standing for “gossip” in the Corfiot dialect. Resembling a street-theater performance, actors sit on window-sills overlooking the narrow alleys of the old town and exchange their gossip in local dialect, which usually refer to the ongoing developments in the island’s political and social life.
“Triodion has already opened,” as they say in Greece… Therefore, let us join the festivities and whoop it up, as if there’s no tomorrow.