Carnival in reality means abstaining from meat –a mental and physical preparation of the human for Easter and Resurrection. In Latin the word carnival, derives from carne, which means “meat”, and the verb vale, which means “I pass.”
The carnival period is considered a period in which man escapes from his daily life and externalizes his passions with the help of disguise.
Formerly carnival was everywhere in Greece with group masquerades, dances, feasts, satire and various special customs in every place. It was a chance for endless party, revelry with wine and a thousand moqueries. The largest centers of carnival revelry were, like today Patras with the famous Carnival, which has its roots in the early 19th century. Another place is Plaka in the center of Athens and Moschato, a south suburb of Athens. In Thebes there is famous custom, the “Vlach wedding”. The “Vlach Wedding” is a remnant of the ancient orgiastic cult of the god Dionysus, the son of Semele in the country of the legends, Thebes. “Vlach Wedding,” is revived each year, with all participants joining the festivities with satirical songs and lots of dancing. Other places known for the festivities during Carnival are Kozani with the beautiful famous lamps and the outdoor celebrations around fires in various neighborhoods and Rethymno with its unique carnival, where the participants are taking part in a fantastic treasure hunt in the Renaissance Old Town alleys!
This celebration is associated with the last permitted by the orthodox tradition period to eat meat and to have fun before starting the Lent. During this period and for seven whole weeks weddings or celebrations or festivals cannot be made. So Apokries is a pleasant parenthesis between the twelve days (from Christmas’ Eve until Epiphany) and Lent. This period lasts three weeks and it is called Triodio. Clean Monday puts an end to the preceding Carnival celebrations, inviting all Orthodox Christians to leave behind the sinful attitudes associated with Carnival festivities and non-fasting foods, which were largely consumed during the three weeks of the Carnival.
As a result, the feast, which is a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus, is celebrated with outdoor excursions, the consumption of shellfish and other fasting foods. After Clean Monday it is forbidden to the Christians to eat meat, eggs, milk but the consumption of shellfish and mollusks though, is permitted, thus creating the tradition of eating elaborate dishes based on seafood, like cuttlefish, octopus and different shellfish, like shrimp and mussels. A traditional dip made of the salted and cured roe from carp or cod, mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and bread crumbs, called taramosalata, is also part of the products consumed on Clean Monday. Taramosalata is ideal for spreading on the lagana, a special kind of unleavened flatbread, baked only on that day.
Traditionally, as Clean Monday is considered to mark the beginning of the spring season, kite flying is also part of the tradition. The kite has its roots in ancient Greece and symbolizes the human need to rise mentally and spiritually and get closer to God.