Tsiknopempti is one of the biggest dates on the Greek calendar. It is the official start of the festivities around carnival, and is the day where Greek people eat as much meat as they want. The day is always celebrated on a Thursday, and the name is made up of the words ‘tsikna’, which means ‘the smell of burning food’, and ‘Pempti’, which is the Greek word for Thursday.
Greek Orthodox custom is that Tsiknopempti is the day where people can eat as much meat as they want prior to the fourty-day fast before Easter, and for those who respect the traditional fasts of Wednesday and Friday. The origins of the festival and name come from the tradition in many towns throughout Greece of melting the fat from pigs on this day, whilst big groups of family and friends would gather at home to cook meat over a barbecue. This would lead to the smell of burning meat wafting through entire towns and villages, leading to the name that we associate with the festival to this day.
Historically, the tradition would involve a lot of dressing up and teasing, with people knocking on doors and being treated with wine, with every home knocked on then being asked to join the party and continue the walk-through town. In a mirror to ‘Trick or Treat’ in other countries, there would also be minor damage caused outside properties, with plant pots knocked over etc. The parties would go on long into the night and into the next morning.
These are traditions that can be seen in other countries, but with slightly different customers and names, such as Mardi Gras in France, or Jueves Lardero in Spain.
In modern-day Greece however, what can you expect from a Tsiknopempti celebration?
The fun is in the cuts of meat that are barbecued. You see plenty of lamb, pork, goat, beef – it is really down to your personal preference, but whatever you choose, you should always cook it over charcoal and grill it. Throughout Greece there will be special Tsiknopempti menus put out, and there will always be some type of souvlaki on offer pretty much anywhere and everywhere you go – from the major cities down to the smallest villages in the hillsides. Certainly, Tsiknopempti is the day where you will see smoke from barbecues across the country, smell cooking meat everywhere you go, and see parties lining the streets until dawn the next day.
The week after Tsiknopempti is called ‘cheese week’ as meat is no longer allowed, but dairy products are, with the Great Lent beginning on ‘Clean Monday’, which is the day after ‘Cheese Sunday’.
If you are from Greek descent and living in the UK, or you want to find out more about these traditions, you should seek out your local, authentic Greek restaurant around Tsiknopempti. It is crucial that you try Greek food or Greek food takeaway that is made by those who are well-versed in the authentic traditions of Greek cuisine that have been passed down through the generations. Tsiknopempti is a tradition that everyone gets involved with in Greece, and it is a joyous time of year for all the family.