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The Tradition of ‘Tsiknopempti’

Tsiknopempti is the Thursday during carnival that marks the beginning of the last weekend that observant Greek Orthodox Church members are allowed to eat meat before they begin their lenten fast.

Tradition has it that on this day everyone prepares and enjoys their favorite meat dishes and typically a cloud of smoke where it is being cooked or barbecued. This gives Tsiknopempti one of its other common names, “Smoke Thursday” or “Smoked Thursday”.

It is also called “Barbecue Thursday” or “Grilled Thursday” by some. Tsiknopempti is also a popular day for going out to eat and enjoying as many different meats as possible. Be sure to reserve a table ahead of time as restaurants and traditional taverns are typically fully booked!

Meaning of Tsiknopempti
In Greek, Thursday is Pempti (Πέμπτη), meaning the fifth day of the week as Greeks count Sunday as the first day. The word tsikna (Τσίκνα) refers to the smell of cooked meat – however, “Smelly Thursday” has not caught on as a translation.

In English, Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” and so Tsiknopempti is sometimes also called “Fat Thursday” – which is logical as the cooking of all that meat results in vast quantities of fat dribbling down onto the coals.

It is part of traditional celebrations for the three-week Carnivale in Greece. The first week is Profoni (prelude), the second week is Kreatini (meat week), the third week is Tirofagou (cheese week). Tsiknopempti is on the Thursday of the week known as Kreatini before the fasting of Sarakosti begins. It is celebrated 11 days before Kathara Deftera, Clean Monday, marking the start of Lent.

Typical Tsiknopempti Menu
Meat is king, with the emphasis on grilled meats, though the occasional stew pot will be visible.

Some restaurants and virtually every traditional tavern will put on special menus for Tsiknopempti. By far, the most common item will be some variation of souvlaki – meat on a stick. These are available almost everywhere – walk carefully to avoid banging into an unexpected grill mostly obscured by smoke, sharing the already narrow streets and walkways!

Non-Greek Tsiknopempti
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.