Tsiknopempti, the Greek Mardi Gras

Tsiknopempti is is a part of the traditional celebrations for Carnival. Similar to the Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. According to the Greek Orthodox tradition, it is celebrated on the Thursday before Ash Monday which marks the start of the Greek Orthodox Lent. This year will be celebrated on February 16th.

The word Tsiknopempti comes from the Greek words “tsikna” (grilled meat aroma) and “pempti” (Thursday). It is a long-standing tradition in Greek culture and an important part of its culinary heritage. The festive atmosphere of Tsiknopempti provides a contrast to the solemnity of the upcoming Lenten season, making it a unique and cherished holiday in the Greek calendar. Many Greeks also attend church services on this day.

Tsiknopempti, sometimes also called Fat Thursday, is a popular day in Greece, a time for celebration, indulging in food, and festivities, as well as a time for reflection and preparation for the upcoming fasting period of Lent. People are preparing grills or going out to eat and enjoying as much meat as possible with live music and dancing. It is a day of the feast but also a social event as improvised grills are set to public spaces and people are invited for a kerasma (treat).

This day is celebrated in various ways across Greece, with different regions having their unique customs and traditions. For example, in some parts of the country, it is common for people to light bonfires and dance around them, while in others, traditional musical instruments such as the bouzouki and the lyra are played. In Athens, the capital city of Greece, Tsiknopempti is a particularly lively affair, with many taverns and restaurants staying open late into the night to accommodate the revelers.

Obviously, in the typical Tsiknopempti menu, meat is the king with emphasis on grilled meats though the occasional stew pot will be welcome. Most restaurants and almost every traditional tavern will put on special menus for Tsiknopempti. By far, the most common item will be some variation of souvlaki – meat on a stick. These are available almost everywhere – walk carefully to avoid banging into an unexpected grill mostly obscured by smoke, sharing the already narrow streets and walkways!

In recent years, Tsiknopempti has also gained popularity among tourists visiting Greece, who come to experience the country’s rich cultural heritage and cuisine. This holiday offers a unique opportunity for visitors to get a taste of the traditional Greek lifestyle and to immerse themselves in the country’s unique culture and history.

An equivalent of Tsiknopempti is also celebrated in Germany and Poland, but there they are adhering to the Western calendar for Easter, so the date differs. Most Eastern Orthodox and Greek Orthodox church calendars will be in alignment for Tsiknopempti and the rest of the Carnival, Lent, and Easter seasons, but there are some exceptions for faith groups adhering to a different variant of the old calendar.