Tsiknopempti, literally 'Thursday of the Smoke of Grilled Meat', is part of the traditional celebrations for the Carnival season in Eastern Crete and the whole of Greece. The three weeks of Carnival in Greece are, in order, 'Profoni', 'Kreatini', and ‘Tirofagou’. 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 tsikno (Τσικνο) refers to the smell of burned and grilled meat.
On this Thursday large amounts of meat are traditionally consumed prior to the arrival of Lent, the fasting season leading up to Easter. Because of this, almost everyone in East Crete rushes to prepare and enjoy their favourite meat dishes, creating a cloud of smoke where it is being cooked. Needless to say that this eating spree is accompanied by plenty of Tsikoudia or also commonly Raki (the national drank in Eastern Crete), beer and Greek music. Some hotels and virtually every taverna will put on special menus for Tsiknopempti. By far, the most common item will be some variation of a Greek souvlaki ( meat on a stick). These will be available everywhere along the streets in many of the villages in the East of Crete.
Many areas in front of tavernas, but also in front of book stores and other shops have installed big barbecues outside in the narrow streets and walkways. You have to walk carefully in order to avoid banging into an unexpected grill mostly obscured by smoke. 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. It’s a popular day for going out to eat and enjoying as many different meats as possible.
In the Greek Orthodox tradition, fasting on Wednesday and Friday is important, therefore Thursday is the best day for Tsiknopempti. Tsiknopempti is celebrated 11 days before Clean Monday. Similar celebrations known as 'Fat Thursday' are held in many other countries. In many countries there is an equivalent festivity day widely know as "Mardi Gras”.
For 2017 the Greek Carnival Dates in East Crete are Triodion on Sunday, February 5th. Tsiknopempti or "Burnt Thursday” on February 16th and the Tsiknopempti Weekend is Friday, February 17th - Sunday to February 19th. The Main Carnival Weekend is Friday February 24th - Sunday February 26th, finally Clean Monday is on February 27th in 2017.