Tsiknopempti is the Thursday during Carnival. It takes place 11 days before the start of Greek Orthodox Lent. In 2019, Tsiknopempti is February 28 and Greek Lent begins on March 11. Tsiknopempti signals the start of the last weekend that observant Greek Orthodox Church members are permitted to eat meat before fasting for Lent.
Naturally, everyone rushes to prepare and enjoy their favorite meat dishes for Tsiknopempti, which gives it one of its other common names, "Smoke Thursday" or "Smoked Thursday".
By the way, the day is celebrated on a Thursday because, for observant Greek Orthodox Christians, the traditional fast days - when they abstain from meat throughout the year - are Wednesday and Friday.
Tsiknopempti for Visitors
This is one of the few times of year it's a good idea to make a reservation - even at the most casual taverna - as families come out in force to consume vast quantities of grilled meats and every where will be packed.
Meaning of Tsiknopempti
In English, Tsiknopempti is sometimes also called "Fat Thursday." In Greek letters, Tsiknopempti is Τσικνοπέμπτι. In Greek, Thursday is Pempti (Πέμπτη), meaning the fifth day of the week as Greeks count Sunday as the first day.
The word tsikna (Τσικνο) refers to the smell of cooked meat - however, "Smelly Thursday" has not caught on as a translation.
Typical Tsiknopempti Recipes and Menus
Meat is king, with the emphasis on grilled meats, though the occasional stew pot will be visible.
Some hotels and virtually every taverna will put on special menus for Tsiknopempti. By far, the most common item will be some variation of souvlaki - meat on a stick. These will be available everywhere along the streets in the taverna areas
Pronunciation: Tsik-no-pem-ptee, with the "p" softly sounded, nearly like a "b" or even a "v".
An equivalent of Tsiknopempti is also celebrated in Germany and Poland, but there they are adhering to the Western calendar for Easter, so the date differs. Most Eastern Orthodox and Greek Orthodox church calendars will be in alignment for Tsiknopempti and the rest of the Carnival, Lent, and Easter seasons, but there are some exceptions for faith groups adhering to a different variant of the old calendar.