Crete Journal, February 2006
Before we undergo the austerities of Lent, here in Crete we are celebrating
an ancient tradition believed to have started as a tribute to Dionysos
(Greek) or Bacchus (Roman), the god renowned for his love of wine and
The tradition, known as Apokries from the Greek “apochi apo
kreas = goodbye to meat” or Karnavali from the Latin “carne
vale = flesh farewell”, runs for the three weeks before Lent and
this year is from 12 February until 5 March.
In the first week of Apokries, readings from the Triodeon = “book
of the Three Holy Sacraments” are made daily in the churches, and the
feast on the first Sunday is called Protofoni = “First Voice”.
The second week of Apokries is known as Kreatini = “Meat Filled” and
contains TsiknoPempti = “Burnt Thursday”, which the locals usually
celebrate with huge feasts in the tavernas. This tradition is supposed
to have started when, during the first sunny days of the year after
the winter gloom, village women would leave their meat cooking while
going out to enjoy the sun and local gossip. Of course, on their return
the meat was burnt, hence the name!
The third week of Apokries is Tirini = “Cheese Filled”, because
meat used to be forbidden by the church from the Monday before Lent,
and the locals resorted to cheese, eggs and dairy food instead. Nowadays,
meat is allowed until two days before Lent starts.
these three weeks of Apokries are a good excuse to enjoy parties and
pranks at all times and for all ages, it is normal during each weekend
for children to have parties, with the girls dressed as princesses
and the boys dressed as their own heroes, which nowadays usually means
Zorro or Batman! The teenagers and young adults try to out-do
each other by wearing outrageous and sometimes bizarre costumes on
each of the three weekends of Apokries, by parading in the streets
and visiting bars wearing costumes of all sorts, from ghouls to angels,
priests to transvestites, clowns to policemen. Sometimes this can be
a good excuse to play pranks on someone you don’t like … if they can’t
The third Sunday is usually reserved for the best costumes and parties,
and in many of the larger towns there are organised carnival parades
(the Rethimno carnival is the largest in Crete), with prizes for the
best costumes. On the last night of Apokries, bonfires are lit in the
streets, and costumed revellers sing and dance around them. When the
flames die down, some of the braver people will jump over the fire
to “burn off the fleas”.
after Apokries, Lent starts with Kathara Devtera = “Clean Monday”,
which this year is 6 March and is a national holiday. From this date
until Easter Sunday (this year 23 April), people are not supposed to
eat any meat containing blood (e.g. beef, pork, fish), dairy foods
or oil, and instead must sustain themselves with pulses, bread, seafood
Clean Monday, local families usually take to the countryside or beaches
with picnics of Lenten food, together with unleavened bread called lagana.
Recently, it has also become a tradition to fly kites as high as possible
on Clean Monday, but asking our Cretan friends about the origin of
this custom brings only a shrug!
In many Catholic Latino countries, the festival Mardi Gras =
French “Fat Tuesday” is celebrated the day after Orthodox “Clean Monday”.
This is a huge carnival along the lines of the final day of Apokries
and also signifies the start of Lent, which strangely enough has identical
rules about the food that can be eaten, despite the rivalries between
the different branches of Christianity.
short for Lenten = Old English “spring”, and in Greek is Sarakosti = “fasting”. It
lasts for seven weeks, but for those people fasting it seems a lot
longer, especially during the final days. In olden times before people
possessed calendars, they would count the fasting days with Kera-Sarakosti.
They would draw Kera-Sarakosti = “Lady Lent” as a woman without a mouth
because of her fasting, and with her hands crossed in prayer. She had
seven legs, one for each week of Lent. They would then hang Kera-Sarakosti
on a wall, and every Saturday cut off a leg. The last leg was removed
on Holy Saturday (Resurrection of Christ) and put inside a dried fig.
This fig was mixed with others, and handed out to the family. The person
who chose the special fig would receive good luck.