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Tsiknopempti - BBQ smoke Fat Thursday Carnival in Greece

Carnival is a famous tradition worldwide that is celebrated in many countries. Greece is one of them too. The Carnival in Greece is not just about dressing up, but it has a religious meaning as well. During celebrations, there is one specific day that stands out: Tsiknopempti.

Keep reading and you will learn all about this special day for the Greeks, its meaning, its tradition, and how it is celebrated in different parts of Greece.

Definition of Tsiknopempti

If you are not a Greek speaker, it might be hard to pronounce the word Tsiknopempti. It is a compound word, which consists of tsikna and Pempti. By definition “tsikna” (Τσίκνα) is the smell of grilled meat in the air and Pempti (Πέμπτη) in Greek means Thursday.

So, Tsiknopempti is a Thursday, when you can smell a lot of grilled meat. Tradition has it, that during this day everyone prepares and enjoys recipes with the main ingredient to be pork meat. The cloud of meat smoke is a typical thing during this day.

Tsiknopempti in English is mentioned as “Fat Thursday”, “Smoked Thursday” or “Barbeque Thursday”.

Historical Background of Carnival in Greece

It is difficult to define the origin of this tradition. It is said that it dates back to ancient times when ancient Greeks used to prepare rich feasts as a sign of the beginning of spring and as a wish for a fertile season.

But this tradition is not just related to ancient Greece, but to the Christian Orthodox religion as well. According to the Orthodox religion, the week that Tsiknopempti is celebrated is called “Kreatini”, which in Greek means “Meat Week” and is the last week that believers can consume meat before the 50 days of fasting. So, the purpose of Tsiknopempti is to let people enjoy pleasures like meat-eating and prepare them for the following 50 days of lent until Orthodox Easter.

But why Greeks have chosen Thursday to celebrate this tradition? The answer is again related to the Christian Orthodox religion. Wednesdays and Fridays are important days of fasting, on which believers cannot consume meat and dairy. That was the reason that Thursday was conveniently chosen as the day of celebrating.

How is it celebrated in differents parts of Greece? 

City of Patras 

Patra is the third largest city in Greece and is located in the Peloponnese region in southern Greece. In this city, they have an interesting way of celebrating Tsiknopempti, which is based on this old story.

Once upon a time, there was a young Greek girl named Yannoula, that lived in Patra. She thought that Admiral Wilson was madly in love with her and wanted her as his bride. She decided she would wait for him to come and confess his love. What’s the best place for an Admiral to show? The port, of course! So, she used to go to the port of Patra and wait for his ship to appear.

Nowadays, during Tsiknopempti in the port of Patra, a young girl or boy is dressed up as Yannoula, wearing a wedding dress and pretends to wait for Mr. Wilson. The rest of the people sing and dance around the bride.

Carnival in Greece Patras Ferry Wheel Unsplash
© Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

City of Serres 

Serres is a small city, located in northern Greece, just a few kilometers from Thessaloniki. As small as this city is, it pays great attention to how they celebrate famous traditions. Tsiknopempti could not be an exception.

In this city, people gather together and prepare meat every way that is possible. The highlight of the day is the lighting of fires. As the flames are large and astonishing, people jump over them. The one that manages to jump over the most of them is the winner of the night.

City of Komotini

The next stop is another city in northern Greece, Komotini.

Komotini is located in the northeastern part of Greece and it is famous for its own way of celebrating the Thursday tradition. During Tsiknopempti, the engaged couples of Komotini exchange gifts. But they are not common gifts, they should be edible. Men have to give their future brides a cooked chicken, while women should prepare for their future husbands a tray of baklava dessert as well as a stuffed chicken.

The root of these celebrations is not known, but one thing is for sure, they are quite interesting!

City of Thebes 

Thebes, or Thiva is a city located in Central Greece.

Here there is a special tradition that takes place during the period of the carnival in Greece. They celebrate a Vlach wedding. Vlachs or Aromanians are an ethnic group, which is recognised by the Greek state. Greek Vlachs are native residents of Epirus, Thessaly, Central and Western Macedonia.

According to the custom, on Tsiknopempti they celebrate the engagment and on Clean Monday the wedding. In between, there are daily celebrations that revolve around the preparation of the wedding, with feasts, songs and dance.

Tsiknopempti BBQ Carnival in Greece Souvlaki
© Canva

Alternative Carnival Celebrations Athens 

The famous museum of Acropolis holds an event every year on Tsiknopempti that is not what the usual carnival looks like. The restaurant of the museum offers visitors gourmet delicacies and exceptional dishes. Jazz tunes accompany this special dinner night. A great option if you are after something different or just wish to avoid the smell of grilled meat on your clothes.

4 Most important museums - Acropolis Museum
© Marcia Welch

In conclusion

In general, Greeks prefer to go out during this day. The streets are full of people, usually dressed up, and there is a lot of movement as people gather to party. In addition, every shop, store and taverna prepares delicious grilled meat dishes and other delicacies in the middle of the streets.

If you are set on dining out, it is best to make a reservation in order to avoid the long waiting lists or even worse finding no space at all.

Tsiknopempti is the sign of the beginning of the carnival in Greece. If you are a fan of dressing up, going out, having fun and eating meat, this is the day for you. For people that want to delve deeper into the customs and traditions of this day, why not visit one of the cities we mentioned above? It will be an experience to remember, that’s for sure!

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