February is the last winter month; everyone is already bored with cold and rain and snow and is looking forward to warmer days.
However, everybody loves and welcomes February because he brings the first signs of spring. That is why in Greece people use to say: ” Ο Φλεβάρης κι αν φλεβίσει, καλοκαίρι θα μυρίσει”. Which means that even if February carries sometimes bad surprises, it remains the end οf the winter and he is the messenger of the spring.
But everybody loves February because he is also the month of Carnaval.
The origin of the Greek Carnival
In Greece, Carnaval is called Apokries and it lasts three weeks.
In Latin it is called Carnival, as this word comes from carne, meaning “meat,” and the vale, meaning “pass”.
The period of the Carnaval is considered to be a period of release in which man escapes from his everyday
life and externalizes his passions with the help of disguise. That’s why during these days celebrations and events are organized everywhere and for everybody: children and adults have fun, especially children. They are dressed in funny costumes, dance, sing and participate in carnaval parades.
Nevertheless, the ancient roots of the Carnaval cannot be disputed; it was connected with pagan traditions and rituals, especially the ecstatic celebrations in honour of Dionysus, who was the god of wine, ecstasy and inebriation, and also of the rebirth of nature.
At the celebrations, people disguised themselves as satyrs or wore masks and poured into the streets behaving “provocatively” with bold words and deeds. This served the purpose to be allowed to express freely their sexual thoughts while hiding their true identity behind masks.
The 3 weeks of Carnival
So, Apokries is a delightful break between Christmas & New Year’s celebrations (Twelve Days) and Easter. They consist of three weeks.
In the first week families are preparing, doing their supplies, and according to an old belief, the souls of the dead are free for a while to visit the upper world.
This week is also known as Profoni (which means precursor, forerunner).
The second week is called Kreatini (=dedicated to meat)and honours the meat. Especially on Thursday, which is called Tsiknopempti because of the smell of grilled meat which fills the air. On the Peloponnese, there is a great tradition for this day to make sausages and salted meat; which is always a great celebration. However, Saturday (as well as the next two Saturdays), unlike Tsiknopempti, are dedicated to the memory of the dead and are called Psychosavvata (Souls’ Saturdays).
The third week is called Tyrini (=dedicated to cheese) and is dedicated to dairy products accompanied by pasta.
The end of Carnival
And after three weeks filled with fun and good food (Carnaval), the “Clean Monday” follows. It is the first day of the fasting period and traditionally, on this day a variety of Lenten food and seafood is eaten. The leading role this day belongs to the “lagana”, a bread which is made only with flour and water and has no leaven or yeast.
The name of the day (=Clean) comes from the habit that women had to clean very well all the kitchenware in order to remove traces of “non- fasting” food. Another explanation is that this day begins the preparation for Easter with the purifying of body and soul. And with Clean Monday Carnival or Apokries ends and the 40 days fasting period before Easter starts.
In fact, even if the idea of Apokries seems to be very popular everywhere, the customs that accompany it were not born in the city. Instead they were born in the countryside where people need to beg and cause the good spirits for good health and good harvest.
This is exactly the meaning of the many carnival fires which are lit in squares and crossroads. The custom is based on the primitive faith that fire hides force which is transmitted to anyone who comes in contact with this ritual. Such customs are Fanoi at Kozani area (N Greece) or Kapsales (at Ioannina).