Each year, more of the ancient traditions of Carnival are being revived in Greece.
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 Rethymnon, Crete, the Greek apokria celebrations have absorbed a slightly Venetian flavor from the periods that the islands were under the control of Venice. Apokria, by the way, means denial of, or goodbye to meat which is almost identical in meaning to Carnival or Carneval. In Latin, carne=meat and vale=farewell.
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.
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 liveliest 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.Some people claim parts of the festival, including the carrying of models of ships in processions, date all the way back to ancient rites in Egypt. Who knows. The idea of feasting before fasting is probably as old as civilization, but Carnival, or Carneval, as a specific event is very much tied to Western Christian and Eastern Orthodox churches.
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 wild celebrations, parades, and traditional events wherever Carnival is celebrated. In larger towns or cities known for Carnival, such as Rethymnon 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" may not bet Italian at all. I might come from the Greek word macaria or "blessed" - actually the a name. Macaria is a minor Greek goddess of blessed death. That's a sobering thought to have has you chomp down on all that saturated fat. A special service for the dead is conducted in Orthodox churches on the Saturday before Cheese-eating Sunday.
Part of the ritual is the making of grain dishes and might be a survival of the ancient rites of Demeter, goddess of the harvest, but also of the cycle of life and death.
"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 animal products. Lagana is a flatbread traditionally served on this day.
Plan Your Carnival Visit to Greece
If you are planning to visit Greece during the Carnival season, it's best to check with the specific community you are planning to visit. Although the dates of religious observances will be the same across the country, some Carnival cities may have earlier events and celebrations. Triodion marks the religious start of the season, but is generally a quiet church ceremony. Burnt Thursday, usually the beginning of what visitors would consider to be the real Carnival season is on February 28 in 2019.
The meat feasts and partying continue through the weekend, Friday March 1 to Sunday, March 3. Cheese-eating Thursday is March 7 and the main Carnival weekend extends from Friday March 8 through Sunday March 10. The big celebrations, parades and parties take place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday."Clean Monday", the last day of Carnival on March 11 in 2019, is a family oriented day for quiet observances in the home. After more than a week of feasting and partying, it's no wonder the Greeks need Clean Monday to ease them into the Lenten season.
Go back to page one: Greek Carnival traditions Want to know when Carnival in Greece occurs? Here you are. Some Carnival cities may have events prior to the initial dates given. Triodion marks the religious start of the season, but is generally a quiet church ceremony. Burnt Thursday is usually the beginning of what visitors would consider to be the real Carnival season.
2018 Greek Carnival Dates
Triodion: Sunday, January 28th
Tsiknopempti or "Burnt Thursday": February 8th
Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, February 9th - Sunday, February 11th
Cheesefare Thursday: February 15th
Main Carnival Weekend: Friday, February 16th-Sunday February 18th
Clean Monday: February 19th
2017 Greek Carnival Dates
Triodion: Sunday, February 5th
Tsiknopempti or "Burnt Thursday": February 16th
Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, February 17th - Sunday, February 19th
Cheesefare Thursday: February 23rd
Main Carnival Weekend: Friday February 24th-Sunday February 26th
Clean Monday: February 27th
2016 Greek Carnival Dates
Triodion: Sunday, February 21st
Tsiknopempti or "Burnt Thursday": March 3rd
Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, March 4th - Sunday, March 6th
Main Carnival Weekend: Friday, March 11th - Sunday, March 13th
Clean Monday: March 14th
Need to calculate another year? You can look up the dates individually on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America Calendar.
Greek Carnival Dates, 2016-2023
2016 - Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday - May 1st
2017 - Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday - April 16th (same as Western Easter)
2018 - Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday - April 8th
2019 - Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday - April 28th
2020 - Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday - April 19th
2021 - Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday - May 2nd
2022 - Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday - April 24th
2023 - Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday - April 16th