The Carnival season won’t start until next month in Catholic countries (Mardi Gras isn’t until March 8), but the Carnival season in Greece kicks off on February 12 and will run until March 6 this year. The dates are different but the significance is the same.
The dates differ for the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox because of two things: Firstly, Catholics use the Gregorian calendar, while Orthodox use the Revised Julian calendar. Secondly, for Catholics, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, while for Orthodox, Lent begins on Clean Monday.
The concept behind Carnival for both denominations is the same, though. Carnival marks a season of revelry before Lent begins. Lent is the forty-day period before Easter when Christians prepare for the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ by fasting and other means. Since certain foods cannot be eaten during Lent and would spoil before the forty days are up, they had to be eaten ahead of time. According to some accounts, this resulted in gluttonous parties in the days leading up to Lent, a season we now celebrate as Carnival.
In Greece, Carnival is known as Apokriés (Αποκριές), which literally translates to “saying goodbye to meat.” Each week there are different celebrations to say good-bye to the favorite foods we’ll be giving up.
2011’s Key Carnival Dates for Eastern Orthodox:
Triodion: Sunday, February 12th
Tsiknopempti or “Burnt Thursday”: February 24th
Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, February 25th – Sunday, February 27th
Main Carnival Weekend: Friday, March 4th – Sunday, March 6th
Clean Monday: Monday, March 7th
Just as in other Carnival celebrations around the world, Greeks celebrate Apokriés with parades, floats, and wild masks.