Already, the Carnival in the Greek city of Patras ranks in the top three carnival celebrations in the world, right after much better-known events in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro.
In Corfu and Rethimno, Crete, the Greek apokria celebrations have absorbed a slightly Venetian flavor from the periods that the islands were under the control of Venice.
In Thassos, travelers can still experience a non-commercial but very vibrant celebration, and there are dozens of others on other islands and on the Greek mainland.
Carnival in Patras Photo Gallery.
Forget "Fat Tuesday" but enjoy "Burnt Thursday"
"Burnt Thursday" or Tsiknopempti is celebrated eleven days before the start of Lent. The "Burnt" part refers to the grilling of meats, a big part of the celebration of this day. The weekend following "Burnt Thursday" will also have parties and other events; technically, that Sunday is the last allowable day for eating meat and is sometimes called "Meat-eating Sunday". The best Greek restaurants will be crowded on this day - but seafood places are a safe bet to have tables available!
Why are the Carnival dates different from Mardi Gras?
In Greece, Carnival 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.
When Should I go?
For the traveler to Greece, the most vigorous party is on the weekend prior to the end of the Carnival season. This is followed by Clean Monday or "Ash Monday", a generally family-oriented day where, in Athens, picnics and kite-flying prevail. "Clean Monday" is the last day of Carnival for the Greeks. "Fat Tuesday" does not exist in Greece - Burnt Thursday is its closest parallel.
Why are the Greeks so good at putting on Carnival?
They invented it. Most carnival-related events are connected with the ancient worship of the Greek god of wine and divine intoxication, Dionysus. The processions, costuming, and feasting all derive from ancient ceremonies honoring him and other Greek gods and goddesses, though some claim parts of it, including the carrying of models of ships in processions, date back to similar rites in Ancient Egypt. My personal opinion? Those pleasure-loving Minoans had a hand in it too.
Important Dates in the Greek Carnival Season:
40 days before the beginning of Lent, Carnival 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, so don't expect a sudden party to erupt.
The Friday, Saturday, and Sunday preceding "Clean Monday" usually offer vigorous parties, parades, and traditional events wherever Carnival is celebrated. In larger towns or cities "known" for Carnival, such as Rethimno or Patras, the previous weekend will also be filled with activities.
The last Sunday of the Carnival period is known as "Cheese-eating Sunday" or Tyrofagos as no meat products are allowed at this time. Macaroni is often served on this day. Surprisingly enough, the word "macaroni" is not Italian, but comes from the Greek words macaria or "blessed", and aeronia or "eternal". Thus, "macaroni". The preceding day, Saturday, is a special service for the dead in Orthodox churches, and part of the rites includes the making of grain dishes, probably a survival of the ancient rites of Demeter. Thus, "macaroni".
"Clean Monday" or Kathari Deftera, is the actually the first day of Lent (Sarakosti). While a holiday atmosphere still prevails, the foods consumed are all "pure", without the shedding of blood. But this allows cuttlefish and squid, fish roe, and other items. "Lagana" is a flat bread traditionally served on this day.
For all the dates of Carnival, go on to the next page.
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