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.

How do they celebrate Christmas in Greece?

This is a guest post from Andrea Michael of Olive Translations.

If there’s one thing the Greeks know how to do it’s celebrate an event in style and Christmas is no exception.

The festivities begin before Christmas on 6th December (St Nicolas’ Day ) when children roam the streets with drums and triangles singing carols or ‘kalanda’ as they’re called in Greek. These carols have been handed down from generation to generation from Byzantine times.

Going from door to door, it’s a nice way to sing carols and children earn a few Euros (which in this economic climate is no bad thing!)

Greece being a Christian country, tradition and religion dictate many of the events that take place and Christmas is no exception. There is no doubt that Christmas is about celebrating Jesus.

On Christmas Eve, a bread called ‘Christopsomo’, literally ‘Christ Bread’ is homemade and a sign of the cross is imprinted before it goes in the oven. On Christmas Day, the bread is sliced and each piece is given to a family member.

Christmas Day itself is usually spent in church in the morning then home for lunch with the family. Whilst turkey can be bought at supermarkets due to the influx of tourists, most families will have a leg of lamb or pork roasting on a barbeque spit cooking for hours. This is usually served with a traditional ‘spanakopita’ or spinach-cheese pie and lots of vegetables and rice.

For dessert there are two varieties of cakes ‘melomakarouna’ and ‘kourapiedes’ which are normally baked in large quantities. ‘Melomakarouna’  are semolina, cinnamon biscuits covered in honey, and ‘kourapiedes’ are rosewater and butter cookies coated with powdered sugar that are normally served on New Year’s but are often eaten earlier as they are too good to resist!

All this good food makes for partying and it’s not uncommon for music to be blaring all night long whilst everybody dances around their houses and into the street with neighbours joining in just for fun.

Gifts are not actually exchanged on Christmas Day, but are given on 1st January. Things then wind down but not before the Epiphany on 6th January. This is the date the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates Jesus’ baptism when he was a man.

The Epiphany is also known as ‘The Blessing of the Waters’. All over Greece, priests throw a cross which he has blessed into the sea ( or lake or river) and the male members of the family will dive into the freezing waters to be the first to get the cross. Whoever comes out first holding the cross is said to have good luck in the coming year.

If you happen to be in Greece and want to wish someone a ‘Merry Christmas’ it’s ‘Kala Christouyenna!’.

Related posts: Tuesday 13th   How do they celebrate Christmas in Germany    How do they celebrate Christmas in France?

Many thanks again to Andrea for this guest post.  Olive Translations, based in Birmingham, is a translation company with a difference. Certified to the highest European Translation Standard, EN 15038 and with an ISO 9001:2008 Certified Quality Management System in place, when we say Quality; we mean it. Let us be your Partner for the provision of serious, quality translations and we can work together to tailor make a service and price that’s right for you. For a quote please email: info@olivetranslations.com

Summer Reading

It’s the summer holidays. Hopefully everyone is enjoying the time off, but if you or your young ones are getting bored, why not have a look at these books?

For KS1: Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Williams. This is an old book now – I remember reading it when I was a child myself – but it’s still just as appealing now as it was then. You can’t help but feel sorry for poor Gobbolino who really doesn’t want to be a witch’s cat. The story tells of his adventures as he searches for a home where he can be just a normal cat.

KS2: Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Poor Percy Jackson doesn’t realise that he’s a demi-god until one of his teachers tries to kill him. After that his life gets seriously turned upside-down when he discovers that his best friend is a satyr and that the god of war really has it in for him If, like me, you have an interest in Greek mythology these books are even more special, but even if you’ve never been a fan of classical history the Percy Jackson series is a great read that will appeal to boys and girls alike. Start with Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and just keep going! I’ve finished this series, but on my summer reading list I have the second series: The Heroes of Olympus.

KS3: The Everlost Trilogy by Neal Shusterman. What happens when you die if you don’t end up where you are supposed to be? You end up in Everlost, and the only ways to avoid sinking into the centre of the earth are to keep moving or to find a ‘dead spot’ (a place where somebody else has died) to stand on. Everlost is divided into those who want to help the lost souls find their way to where they should be, and those who want to stop them. With a cast including pirates, ogres and people who can take over the bodies of the living, there is quite a battle. For younger readers it’s just a good read – for older readers it has quite an existential feel – Jean-Paul Sartre would have been proud!

KS4:Unwind (also by Neal Shusterman). This one covers some quite gritty issues. Imagine a world where it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy, but when your child reaches the age of 13 you can change your mind. If you decide that having your child was a mistake you can apply to have them ‘unwound’, which involves every single part of their body being used in transplants to save other people’s lives. How would you feel if you had grown up believing your family loved you until the day the authorities come to unwind you? How would you feel if you had grown up in a family that believe in donating 10% of their possessions to charity, and you are their 10th child? This book follows the lives of some children who are on the run to save their lives. To escape the ‘unwind order’, they must stay alive until they are 18.

Young Adults: There probably aren’t many people who haven’t already read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy, but if you are one of them – what are you waiting for? It’s set in the future after there has been some sort of uprising, and the divide between the rich and the poor is very clearly defined. As a punishment for the uprising, the various districts are forced to enter two of their young people, one boy and one girl, into a contest where they have to fight to the death in the name of entertainment. Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark may be teenagers, but the action is tense and fast-paced enough to keep adults turning the pages as well. I have heard a few critics say that this book is just a rehash of Stephen King’s The Running Man, but to me this seems a bit harsh. It is true that The Running Man was probably more visionary at the time, because reality TV wasn’t the bulk of entertainment in those days, but The Hunger Games is more than just reality TV taken to extremes – especially as the plot unfolds further in the second and final books.

These are my recommendations for summer reading. What are yours? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.