Spring is the time when I miss my country the most, if only because of different feasts and festivals that come with the beginning of this lovely season. As it is that time of the year again, I chose to introduce you to the rite of Tsiknopempti and the way people celebrate today in Greece.

Tsiknopempti (~Fat Thursday) is a traditional feast marking the last Thursday before Lent* and is associated with the Carnival celebration. Because Lent is a time of fasting, the next opportunity to feast would not be until Easter. Traditionally, it is a day dedicated to eating meat, which is forbidden during Lent. Additionally, this day is considered a major Carnival celebration in many cities around Greece and people dress in costumes and have fun outdoors with carnival parades and a lot of drinking and dancing in the streets. What is also typical of the day is shop owners putting barbeques outside their shops from early in the afternoon and treating people who pass by, in order to celebrate the day.

The word Tsiknopempti is a compound that is formed of the words tsikna (= the smell of burnt and grilled meat) and Pempti (Greek for Thursday) and is always celebrated on the Thursday 11 days before Clean Monday. Traditionally, everyone must cook meat so that the smoke and tsikna fills the air and everybody knows it’s a feast-day.

Amazingly enough, there are similar celebrations around the world. Tsiknopempti is similar to the French festival of Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). In Italy, Giovedì Grasso (Fat Thursday) is also celebrated, but it is not very different from Martedì Grasso (Shrove Tuesday). In Spain this celebration is called Jueves Lardero, and in Catalan-speaking areas, dijous gras. Jueves Lardero is celebrated with a square pastry called a bizcocho and a round pastry called a mona. In Aragon a meal is prepared with a special sausage from Graus while in Catalonia the tradition is to eat sweet Bunyols. In the Rhineland (Germany), Weiberfastnacht is an unofficial holiday. In the majority of workplaces, work ends before noon as celebrations start at 11:11 am. There are hardly any parades, but people wear costumes and celebrate in pubs and in the streets.

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*Lent is a solemn observance in the liturgical year of many Christian denominations, lasting for a period of approximately six weeks leading up to Easter Sunday.