Get prepared for a lifetime experience in the island of Corfu!
The month of February is not only known as the months of Valentine’s day in Greece. Typically counting back from Easter Sunday, the Greek Carnival is a time when on the one hand the nation is dressed in masquerade and dancing in festivity, and on the other hand, customs dictate preparation for the Lent period, restricting food choices week by week. A strong correlation between contemporary religious traditions and some older, more ancient rituals is found in the Greek carnival season, making it a truly exuberant time to be experiencing it all, first hand!
The Carnival celebrations in Corfu count more than 450 years, and have their foundations in the Venetian era, when Venetian customs began to seep through into local culture. Called ‘Apokries’ in Greek, this literally means abstinence from meat, which is similar to the meaning of ‘carne vale’ in Latin from which the word carnival is derived. And you might wonder what does meat consumption, or rather the forbiddance of meat consumption have to do with masquerades and dress-up and theme floats and parades, that we are so used to associate with carnival. A fusion of paganistic rituals that date back to ancient times, when the God of Wine & Feasts Dionysos was being worshipped, and merged with some more recent folklore beliefs connecting the passage from the winter to the spring solstice, it is also surprisingly blended with religious customs that prescribe gradual fasting until the Pascha (Easter Sunday). This results in a colourful, joyous amalgam of events and experiences that make the Greek Carnival a season of frugal feasts, and unlimited fun (and wine).
Tsiknopempth is on the 16th Thursday and it is the last day the faith allows for meat consumption. On this day the whole of Greece is lighting up the charcoal grills, and sizzling all sorts of meats, giving off a typical smokey flavour released in the air. From that day on, a gradual fasting is commenced, week upon week, until the grandest of feasts due to be held on Easter Sunday.
And even though we are not supposed to eat any meat (which can be a real blow for Greeks who are not well known for their vegetarianism, although we have a huge variety of non-meat dishes we taste on the side of meat dishes), customs try to compensate, by initiating masqueraded street festivities. Be prepared to put your masks on, throw confetti and streamers until your heart’s content! The cantounia, as the narrow flagstone streets are called are filled with people of all ages, wearing costumes, masks or face painting, in organised groups or on their own, dancing, singing, drinking and laughing. Parades of people and theme floats grace the town and there is general merriment all around.
On the last sunday of the Carnival, the Sunday before Clean Monday, the end of all celebrations begins when the town crier declares the arrival of the King Carnival. Once his will has been read out loud for all the town folk to hear, his effigy is set alight! The burning fire symbolises the burning of passions and hatred, cleansing away all evil spirits. Again linked to the pagan, folklore beliefs of yore, the fire symbolises the triumph of light over darkness.