Yesterday Greeks in Greece and abroad celebrated what is known as Tsiknopempti (pronounced tseek-no-PEMP-tee). Literally translated as the "Thursday of meat grilling," Tsiknopempti is a celebration of the meat many will forgo for the 40 days of Lent. In Greece, city and town governments arrange barbecues and grills in central squares while musicians walk the streets playing traditional instruments. Here in New York, some gather in local tavernas where they enjoy music and a variety of grilled meats while others celebrate at home. We enjoyed a more low-key celebration--or recognition of the day--at home where we grilled some lamb chops and sausage on the stovetop and served them with some pan-fried potato rounds, braised red cabbage with caramelized onions and grilled pita.
The celebration of meat will continue until this Sunday, known as Meatfare Sunday, while the following week will be centered on cheese and dairy products, culminating with Cheesefare Sunday which falls on March 1st. The Great Lent begins with Kathara Deutera (Clean Monday) on March 2nd. In Greece, people will enjoy this day in parks and along the countryside, flying kites and having picnics. The food served on Kathara Deutera is simple and traditional as it is an important day that symbolizes the start of the Lenten period and the abandonment of meat, cheese and dairy. Meals include taramosalata (fish roe dip), lagana (a yeast-less flat bread), dolmades (vine leaves stuffed with rice), calamari, octopus, mussels and other seafood, salads, halvas in the form of a semolina pudding and Macedonian Halva in the form of candy-like blocks made from tahini, honey and sometimes with swirls of cocoa, chopped almonds or pistachios.
Easter and all the traditions and preparations leading up to it (from the start of Lent through Holy Week), have always been a favorite of mine, both as a small child and as an adult. Memories of Easter preparations and celebrations are my most vivid memories of all and an integral part of my family's culture. My grandparents and parents held tightly onto these sacred traditions of the Great Lent and Easter they brought here with them from Greece and I am eternally grateful for having been raised with this knowledge and hope to teach my children just as well.