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 that marks the beginning of the last weekend that you are allowed to eat meat before the beginning the lent.

Tsiknopempti that literally translates to Smoked or Smelly Thursday is a popular day in Greece with people preparing grills or going out to eat and enjoying as much meat as possible. It is a day of feast but also a social event as improvised grills are set to public spaces and people are invited for a kerasma (treat).

Obviously in the typical Tsiknopempti menu, meat is the king with the 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!

The Meaning of Tsiknopempti
In Greek, Thursday is Pempti (Πέμπτη), meaning the fifth day of the week as Greeks count Sunday as the first day. The word tsikna (Τσίκνα) refers to the smell of cooked meat – however, Smelly Thursday has not caught on as a translation.

In English, Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday and so Tsiknopempti is sometimes also called Fat Thursday – which is logical as the cooking of all that meat results in vast quantities of fat dribbling down onto the coals.

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.