Tsiknopempti could be translated as ‘smoky’ or ‘aromatic Thursday’. It marks the last day when meat can be eaten before the beginning of Lent. As you may know, the word carnival is a corruption of the Latin carne levare, or abstention from meat. The Greek word apokries has the same meaning: apo (away from) and kreas (meat). For the Greek Orthodox, the 40 days of Lent is a time for fasting to purify body and soul. Eating meat during Lent was a crime punishable by ostracism in Byzantine Greece.
Though not everyone fasts for Lent in Greece these days, Tsiknopempti remains a carnivore’s ideal holiday. Throughout Athens, you will find impromptu barbecues set up outside shops from early afternoon. By evening, the appetising whiff (tsikna) of grilling chops, steaks and sausages fills the air and an orgy of meat eating begins. Naturally, a certain amount of alcohol fuels the fun and before long people are dancing in the streets.
Although a carnival atmosphere prevails for the three weeks before the start of Lent, it reaches its peak on the last weekend. The southwest suburb of Moschato is the place to go by day if you want to see a musical parade of costumes and dancing. Plaka is the place to be at night, when the streets choke up with locals throwing confetti and whacking each other with plastic clubs, which are probably an echo of the Dionysian phalluses that played a big role in the carnival rites of the past.