Friday, February 29, 2008

Greek Traditions and Customs (i)



Something you may not be aware of is that this time of year is a very busy time here in Greece, as far as customs go. This time of year is called Απόκριες(Apocries) in Greek. It means staying away from meat, which is the general notion of fasting. It is a Christian celebration, beginning 4 Sundays before lent, and ending on the day we call here "Clean Monday" which is the first day of Lent. It is never at a specific time of year, as the dates depend on when Easter falls. The origin of the customs and traditions are not certain, but one thing is sure, it is really worth visiting Greece at this time of year.

Most of the festivities begin two Thursdays before Lent, called "tsiknopempti". Celebrations vary depending on what part of Greece you live in, but the main idea is that people gather together and eat barbecued meat. It is a sort of thanksgiving for all the good things that God has given us, and a way of eating what we are going to be giving up during the fasting period. In many areas people dress up. In my village, it is a day of masquerading with masks, so that your face is hidden. You see lots of groups of people dressed so that they are not noticed, some dancing, some playing the fool and others playing jokes.

The Sunday after this is the "Small Apocries". Nowadays it is associated with a children's carnival, where the younger members of the population wear their costumes and parade the streets.

The main event is the last Sunday of this celebration. It is a day of clearing the houses of all meat and dairy products, as Lent begins the next day. It is also the day of magnificent carnival parades all around Greece. In most places the parades take place in the afternoon. The streets fill with onlookers, and those in costume dance through the streets to the rhythms of all kinds of music. Most parades end with a bonfire. Although traditions vary all around Greece, this last Sunday has an essence of death and rebirth, as lots of costumes depict. The end of Winter and beginning of Spring is another of its essential factors.

"Clean Monday" is the first day of Lent. Again a communal celebration in many places, people gather in the countryside and feast on vegetarian dishes, singing and dancing. Again traditions differ around the country, but kite-flying is one of the national customs on this day.

Wherever you are, visiting Greece at this time of year is really worth it. It may not be the Greece of the hot, lazy summer days, but it is the Greece of traditions and celebrations.

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