Meat Eaters Delight as Greece Celebrates Tsiknopempti

Thursday is not going to be a banner day for vegetarians in Greece. The country is currently indulging in the great annual feast of barbecued meats as part of the celebrations for Tsiknopempti, one of the most important dates on the calendar in Greece.

Tsiknopempti, meaning literally “Smelly Thursday”, or even “Charred,” “Smoky,” or “Barbeque” Thursday, because of the smell of the grilled meat in the air, is a vital part of the traditional celebrations for Carnival season.

On this particular Thursday of each year, outdoor barbecues are set up everywhere and anywhere throughout the country: in neighborhood squares, church courtyards and by the roadside, the result being that the smell of grilling meat pervades the air (the ‘tsikna’).

According to Greek Orthodox tradition, the people who await the forty-day fast before Easter and who observe the weekly Wednesday and Friday fasts, have this particular Thursday to eat as much meat as they desire.

This may actually be important for the maintenance of one’s health as well, since there will be no meat or eggs, and very little fish, eaten during Lent.

Just as importantly, people are allowed to party all night long, just before the beginning of the holy days.

The name “Tsiknopempti” originated from the fact that on that particular day, in many places around Greece, people would melt the fat from pigs, while groups gathered in homes to barbecue meat.

The widespread smell of burning meat from any household which could afford meat, led to the naming of the day “Tsiknopempti.”

The custom is said to originate as far back as the Bacchanalian feasts of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which survived with only a few changes until Christian times. The eating and drinking of this Thursday undoubtedly celebrates earthly pleasures, but now this is combined with having to fortify oneself before the rigorous Lenten fast.

In the older days, aside from barbecuing meat, the tradition also dictated dressing up and having some fun with your neighbors. In the villages, people walked around in groups from house to house, knocking on doors and asking for a treat and some wine, which were both consumed on the road.

The people who offered the wine and the treats also had to leave their homes, and join the group as it partied along.

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