A bit of Halloween, a bit of Mardi-Gras and a bit of wind are the ingredients for a fun-filled three weeks before Lent begins in the Orthodox church. Lent began this past Monday and lasts 49 days, until Easter Sunday, or Pascha, which falls on May 5th this year. Easter is the most important feast day in Greece, celebrating the resurrection of Christ. It is celebrated with more energy and attention than any other holiday, including Christmas.
Three weeks ago, the kids came home from school and told me that they were going to go out the following night with friends as moutsoyniaredes. This Ikarian word describes masqueraders who wear wigs, masks, and scary or funny costumes and go door to door, trying to have their neighbors and friends guess their identity. This three-week period before lent, known as Apokreis (away from meat), is filled with a variety of traditions and fun festivities, because once lent begins, the Orthodox Christians abstain from eating meat and dairy products and participating in celebrations until Easter Sunday.
Although the idea behind moutsoyniaredes is to maintain your anonymity, in the recent years there has been an American influence and the masqueraders are given a small piece of candy when they enter a home. However, let it be known that the kids might be given anything the people in the house have to offer–treats aren’t restricted to candy. They might be given, say, a sleeve of biscuit cookies, an apple, or a homemade koularlakia–whatever is on hand. My kids went out multiple nights with different friends, dressing in a new costume each time. Most of the fun came from finding a new way to disguise themselves in funny costumes. The majority of the times they had a great time tricking the villagers, but it didn’t take them long to discover that getting free candy in Ikaria takes a lot more work than it does in the States on Halloween. As you know, two hours of walking on October 31st can yield a pillow case full of chocolate and sweet treats. Here they were able to put the fruits of their labor inside of a jacket pocket, or as Zach did, inside of the hood of his sweatshirt.
During the weeks that lead up to Clean Monday, there is a focus on the foods that can or cannot be eaten. The second week of Aprokries is known as meat week and meat can be eaten everyday of the week. The Thursday of that week is known as Tsiknopmepti, and traditionally, families gather and grill or smoke their meat so that the smells of meat fill the air. Unfortunately, we were traveling to Athens that day and didn’t get to join our extended family for smoked pork chops. The third week of Aprokries is Tyrini, or cheese week, and people can eat dairy products and fish but no meat. Aprokries ends on Kathari Deftera (Clean Monday), which is the first day of lent. This is a national holiday and traditionally families and friends go on a picnic with their baskets full of Lenten food (beans, salad, octopus, squid, taramosalata–fish roe, leaven bread, and halva), and they fly kites. As you may or may not know, Ikaria is an extremely windy island. Many days the winds whip over the mountains at speed of 50 miles an hour, and even if the winds aren’t whipping, there always seems to be a breeze. However, this year, there was NO wind on Clean Monday. We went to the beaches in Galaskari–a beach known for its wind and waves–with Marina, Yianni, Avgi, and Lemonia. During the summer the surfers flock to this beach to ride waves that rival the waves of the Atlantic Coast. On this day, although we saw a dozen or more kites, they just were lying in the sand. It took a lot of running and effort to get a kite in the air for even just a few seconds. One group of young men were so determined to see a kite fly that one of them ran down the road and jumped onto a moving motorcycle hoping to keep the kite aloft!
The day before Kathari Deftera is known as Carnivale, and it has the air of Mardi-Gras celebrations, without the overabundance of beer, beads, and breasts. People from the villages on the north side of the island gathered in the town of Evdilos for a parade, food, and dancing in the streets. The children from the schools, young adult groups, and various others dress up in theme costumes and parade around the harbor. Tables are set up in the platia and they are overflowing with free food and drink. There are vendors selling balloons and giant lollipops, confetti, and paper streamers. This past Sunday was a beautiful day for Carnivale, and we arrived (kids dressed as farmers) at 11:3oam, as instructed. Not forgetting “Ikarian Time,” but not wanting to risk being too late, we were one of the first to arrive. My mother and mother-in-law found a wonderful seat in the sun and drank cappuccinos as we waited for the parade to begin at noon. The majority of the people (not only from our village, but from all over the island) arrived between 12:30 and 1:00pm, and the parade began by 1:20. Despite the heavy basket Rea was carrying, the itchy beard Elias was wearing, and the hours of waiting, it was a great way to end Aprokries and begin the more somber Lenten period. Now, we are anxiously awaiting celebrating our first Easter, or Pascha, in Ikaria. We are told the weather will be beautiful, the church services powerful and the bonfires enormous!