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Exploring Apokries

Discover the unique traditions of Greek Carnival!

An inflatable float as part of an Apokries parade via Greek Herald

This week in Greece, a colourful celebration has begun. Like most Christian denominations, Orthodox Greeks celebrate a version of Carnival – which comes from the Latin carnem levare, or 'without meat’, and is the celebration preceding Lent.

Known in Greece as Apokries, this period of celebration begins 10 weeks before Orthodox Easter and ends on the first day of Lent, Clean Monday, which this year falls on 22 February.

Although today the celebration is aligned with Carnival/Orthodox traditions, Apokries can be traced back to ancient feasts held in honour of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, fun and fertility. As spring approaches in the northern hemisphere, this period is considered a time for shaking off winter, welcoming the new season, and celebrating renewal and rebirth.

It also offers a last chance for indulgence before the 40 days of fasting observed during Great Lent. Cities throughout Greece throw vibrant celebrations which attract thousands of locals and tourists to enjoy eating, drinking, dancing, fireworks and masquerading in bright costumes.

An Apokries carnival in Xanthis via Greek City Times

Milestones of Apokries

Tsiknopempti, or Burnt Thursday, takes place on the Thursday eleven days before Lent. This day is named for the myriad of grilled meats that are served – as the weekend following is usually the peak of festivities, and the last chance to eat meat before Easter!

Most Apokries parades take place on the Saturday of this final weekend, which is followed by a day known as Cheesefare Sunday, or Tyrofago. No meat can be eaten on this day, however dairy is allowed – making it an excellent day for tiropita (cheese pie), galaktobureko (custard pie with syrup), tirokroketes (fried cheese balls) or of course, saganaki!

Finally, the next day is Clean Monday, Sarakosti, which marks the first day of Great Lent and the end of Apokries. Sarakosti is a public holiday in Greece and, weather permitting, it is common to spend the day flying kites and eating picnics of Lenten foods such as lagana (flatbread), taramasalata (fish roe spread), dolmadakia (stuffed vine leaves), grilled octopus, gigantes plaki (Greek baked beans) and halva (sweets made from sesame.)

'Geros' (old men) wearing goat bells as part of a traditional costume at an Apokries celebration in Thessaloniki

Carnival Traditions

Though these key milestones are similar around the country, many cities and towns have developed their own traditions over time, especially in relation to their main carnival event. These carnivals are often closely linked to each region's cultural heritage, and elements of their celebrations are revived from old local customs.


One of the most famous carnivals has been held in the port city of Patras for more than 180 years, and is considered to be the largest celebration in the country. Patras begins its celebrations earlier than most cities on 17 January – Saint Anthony’s Day. Their Apokries celebrations end with a closing parade which includes a ceremonial burning of the Carnival King (Vasilias Karnavalos) and a massive fireworks display.


The city of Xanthi hosts another popular carnival which began in 1966 as an urban event, but has come to incorporate the city’s multicultural character, making it quite folkloric. Its Folk Parade is considered the highlight: on the Saturday before Clean Monday, folk dancers parade through the Old Town and merge in an all-night Balkan folk fiesta in the main square.


On the Aegean island of Skyros, local men wear goat bells around their waists and perform the role of geros (old man), a figure in a hooded black cape and hanging goat skin. The old men run through the streets singing, dancing and making as much noise as possible to ward off evil spirits, while the other townspeople toast, drink and dance with them. This can also be seen at an Apokries celebration in Thessaloniki above!

(Fun fact! Visually, these costumes look similar to those in our past exhibition Faces + Masks, a photoseries by Nikos Vavdinoudis which you can explore in our online exhibition space. The costumes pictured in Nikos' series are related to a similar, but different, celebration of Dionysian roots.)


In the central harbour town of Galaxidi, they perform the unique custom of alevromoutzouromata where on Clean Monday, the town is transformed into a battlefield and hundreds of people pelt each other with coloured flour!


These are just some of the unique traditions observed around the country, but there are many more! Do you have any family traditions celebrated around Apokries, Lent or Easter?


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