Greece has various customs and traditions preserved loyally all year round -many of them quite enthusiastically even by the younger generations. Some of the most loved ones include -what else- food and certainly the most anticipated one is that of Tsiknopempti!
The name sounds weird, we know -it actually means “Smoked Thursday”, as it is a day during which Greeks traditionally gather and grill various kinds of meat -especially pork- accompanied by a variety of “mezedes” (the greek version of tapas) and loads of wine, ouzo and beers. The smell of grilled meat is overwhelming and that is reflected in the “smokiness” of the festivity’s name.
Tsiknopempti belongs to the Christian orthodox tradition and allows the considerable consumption of meat a few days before the great 40-day fasting period before Easter starts, when all kinds of meat and animal-based products (such as cheese, eggs, butter, milk) are strictly prohibited. The day permitted must always be Thursday, as Wednesday and Friday are considered days of fasting according to the church’s tradition. The date is not fixed as it takes place on the second week of Apokries (the greek carnaval) which is a movable celebration.
The tradition is kept and celebrated nation-wide, and on that specific day one can either make a reservation in one of the thousands traditional taverns or invite friends and family over and grill. Resembling the American tradition of barbeque, people gather in gardens, verandas and even rooftops -if the weather allows -during the grilling, and it is the perfect excuse to enjoy a few drinks while biting on some finger food. The ones who don’t want to have one too many dishes to wash afterwards (or detest the smokiness on their hair and clothes) can just pay a visit to the nearest restaurant, as most kinds of dining places transform for this specific day in a meat lover’s paradise. It is almost obligatory to eat as much as you can, drink a lot and of course have fun -even dance and sing to traditional music.
The celebration of Tsiknopempti is accompanied by other various customs all around Greece; if you happen, for example, to be in the island of Corfu in that specific day, you will be lucky enough to witness the famous “Korfiatika”, a hilarious custom where people gather around in the streets and squares and recreate scenes of gossip to parody politicians or celebrities. In the city of Thebes near Athens they locals revive the tradition of “Vlahikos Gamos”, a wedding celebration which has its roots in the ancient worship of God Dionysus. In the city of Patras, thousands set up grills all around the city and offer food to those passing by.
If you happen to be in Greece at Tsiknopempti prepare yourself for a massive party -and make sure you have enough room left for a lot of mprizoles -the greek version of steaks whose taste will be hard to forget!
Read more about the Greek traditions at greeka.com/traditions.