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Join the parade! Carnival season on Crete

If youre heading to Greece this spring, dont be surprised if you find yourself in the middle of a masquerade! The season of apokries has begun and will see three weeks of feasting and celebrating, preparing participants for the 40-day fast of Orthodox Lent.

Translating as ‘goodbye to meat’, apokries begins three weeks before the beginning of lent, meaning that the exact dates change each year although it usually starts in February. Did you know, the word ‘carnival’ also translates as ‘goodbye to meat’, coming from the Latin ‘carne’ (meat) and ‘vale’ (farewell)!

The first week of apokries begins with the reading of the protofoni, or ‘announcements’, taken from the Book of the Three Holy Sacraments. This act announces the beginning of the carnival season, and a great feast is held on the first Sunday to kick-off the celebrations.

The second week of carnival is called Kreatini (literally ‘meat week’) and meat may be eaten every day, even the traditional Orthodox fast days of Wednesday and Friday.  On the Thursday, called Tsiknopempti, people around Greece prepare roasted meat, usually outside, which results in a smokey aroma permeating the air.

The third week of apokries is called Tyrini and is dedicated to cheese, meat being banned after the gluttony of Tsiknopempti. Traditionally, women would abstain from washing their hair this week in the belief that if they did it would all turn white.

The final weekend of apokries is when the majority of the public carnivals and parades are held. The largest apokries parade in Crete, is held in Rethymnon, with smaller parties occurring in Souda, Heraklion, Paleochora, Kastelli and Kalyves. Colourful floats parade through towns and cities, cheered on by merry spectators, most of them in fancy dress themselves!

The end of apokries is marked by Kathari Deftera (Clean Monday). This day is similar to the western Ash Wednesday, and families take to the countryside to eat Lenten foods and fly kites.

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