Visitors to Crete this spring shouldn’t be surprised to find themselves in the middle of a lively carnival! The season of apokries has begun and three weeks of feasting and celebrating are in order, preparing participants for the 40-day lenten fast before Orthodox Easter.
Apokries is a special celebration for young and old alike, filled with parties, parades and carnivals. People across Greece will dress up in their favourite costumes, taking full advantage of this last festive period before the fasting of lent.
Greek carnival is divided into three weeks, each one dedicated to a different aspect of the pre-lent preparations. The first week is focussed on the church, with the opening of the book of the Triodion and the 3 holy sacraments. The second week is a celebration of meat, coming to a heady high on the Thursday of Tsiknopempti – literally, smokey Thursday. On this day it is customary for everyone to roast meat over hot charcoals so the smell of burning meat permeated the whole country. The third week is devoted to cheese and all things dairy, meat being banned after the gluttony of Tsiknopempti. Traditionally, women never washed their hair during this week as it was thought it would turn white if they did!
Throughout apokries children and adults alike dress up in creative disguises and visit the houses of friends and neighbours who try to guess their identities. The masqueraders arm themselves with cans of confetti, foam and streamers, showering passers-by with festive cheer.
In Crete, the largest apokries parade is held in Rethymnon, with smaller parties occurring in Souda, Heraklion, Paleochora, Kastelli and Kalyves. Colourful floats wind their way through towns and cities, cheered on by merry spectators, most of them in fancy dress themselves! Groups of friends or colleagues get together to form themed costume teams, whilst many even hire floats and take their creative projects to the next level!
After three weeks of merriment, apokries comes to an end on Clean Monday, the first day of lent. Clean Monday is a public holiday in Greece and is generally marked by a family excursion to the countryside to fly kites and enjoy a traditional Lenten picnic. No meat, fish, eggs, dairy products or oil are allowed to be eaten for the 49 days leading up to Orthodox Easter, but creative lenten recipes ensure mouthwatering dishes even throughout these weeks of fasting.