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Apokries: the road to Lent goes through food

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The carnival season of Greece, commonly referred to as Apokries, is the main period of masquerading in the small Mediterranean country. Apokries is essentially the period leading up to Lent and the preparation for Easter. Its very name “Apo-kries” mean “(away) from – meat”; and it’s supposed to be the contrast of Lent that comes right after; it’s a festive time of parting, having fun, indulging in temptations, pranking people and eating all kinds of food not permitted during Lent. 

Apokries start off on a Saturday, three weeks before Clean Monday, the equivalent of Ash Wednesday. The carnival celebration begin with what Greek Orthodox Church commonly calls the Lenten Triodion or simply the «opening of the Triodion,» because of the three odes and hymns which begin to be chanted on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, up until Holy Saturday.

The week that follows is supposed to be the last week people eat meat before Easter Sunday. It’s most prominent celebration is Thursday, known as Tsiknopempti (Smoky Thursday). All over Greece people gather round in taverns, homes and outside to barbecue charred meat while celebrating with music, carnival clothes and lots of alcohol; counting down the ten days before lent begins.

Next week people prepare for Lent, not eating meat, but only dairy products with Cheesefare Sunday, the last Sunday of the Carnival bringing the festive period to an end. Huge parades and big masquerade parties,take place in many different parts of the country, with Patra, Ksanthi and Moschato in Athens being the best known. Next day, on Clean Monday, weather permitting, people go outdoors, fly kites and enjoy a special lent diet of unleavened bread called Lagana, fish roe spread, vine leaves stuffed with rice, called dolmadakia, octopus and other cold bar seafood delicacies as well as halva for dessert.

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