Apokries, Carnaval and Shrove Tuesday

While teaching a Spanish lesson on the months of the year a few months back, I pinned up a picture of a witch for “octubre”. One of the boys put his hand up and said that he found that confusing because in his culture (Greek) Halloween wasn’t in October, it was in February or sometimes March.

I was intrigued, partly because Halloween is on 31st October for a good reason – it’s the day before All Saints Day and so was believed to be a day when spirits came out for their last chance of mischief before going into hiding for the next 24 hours – and partly because I always like to learn new things about other cultures. I wondered what the significance of February or March was. The boy promised to ask his family for more details and to let me know.

The next day he came to find me with two pieces of information: 1) the celebration in question was called “Apokries” and 2) it was absolutely nothing to do with Halloween!

Curiosity piqued further I did some research, and this is what I found: the period of Apokries lasts for about 4 weeks, and the word comes from apo kreas which means “goodbye to meat” because during this time traditionally meat is not eaten. It is roughly equivalent to the Spanish and Brazilian “Carnaval” (a word which is believed to come from the Latin carne vale – also meaning goodbye to meat).

Apokries and Carnaval are both celebrated with parades and decorated floats, and (and this could well be where the confusion with Halloween came from) people dress up in elaborate costumes, often with masks.

This year Apokries lasts from 24th February to 17th March, and Carnaval from 8th-12th February. So, while they are having house and street parties, and several days of revelry and celebrations in other countries, what are we doing here in the UK? That’s right – eating pancakes.

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