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 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.
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 flatbread traditionally served on this day.
Plan Your Own Trip to Greece
Flights To and Around Greece: Athens and Other Greece Flights at Travelocity - The airport code for Athens International Airport is ATH.
Book your Own Day Trips Around Athens
Book your Own Short Trips Around Greece and the Greek Islands
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