The three weeks of Carnival are the last weeks before the great Easter Fast and also a festival of masked balls, songs, rivers of wine and plenty of food. Like its predecessors, Greek Athenian Anthesteria and Roman Saturnalia, Greek Carnival includes rituals and magical activities meant to invoke fertility and ensure vegetation.
The season of Carnival coincides with the ancient Athenian Anthesteria, a festival in honour of Dionysus. Anthesteria was held annualy for three days, on the month of Anthesterion (February – March full moon), 1 and was a festival of joy and sorrow. The first two days were dedicated to the celebration of the maturing of last vintage’s wine and the coming of spring. The third day was dedicated to the dead. It was named Chytroi (pots) for the pots in which panspermia was prepared. Panspermia, a honeyed mixture of cooked grains, was offered to the souls of the dead, who freely roamed the city, and to God Hermes Chthonios (Hermes of underworld) the guide of the souls back to Ades.2 No human or Olympian God allowed taste the pottage since was given as exclusive food for the dead.3
Modern Greek carnival also comprises life and death. On the first week the dead souls leave the underworld and visit the land of the living. The second and third Saturday of Carnival and the first of Lent are dedicated to the souls of the dead. Kollivo (a sweet mixture of wheat and nuts), halva, cheese and bread are given to neighbours (Thrace), small breads, called little souls, are offered in the cemeteries (Peloponnese), asking forgiveness for the dead. Also, it is not uncommon the practice of having lunch on the graves, which become the common tables for dead and living.
This good-bye flesh festival, the last great festival of the year, marks the end of meat supplies of winter. Its second week is called Kreatini (from the Greek word kreas – meat) since, according to the Orthodox religion, its Sunday is the last day of meat eating in the Carnival period and before the Easter Lent.
The third week is called Tyrini (tyri- cheese) or Makaronou (makaroni- pasta) or Lazanou (Lasagne) because its main foods are cheese and pasta. The pasta dishes which are prepared during this week have also their predecessors in the pasta which was offered during the ancient Greek dead meals. Sunday of Tyrini leads directly to the Easter Lent
1 Anthesteria was a festival of flowers (αnthe) for Dionysos Anthios, or Euanthes (Fair-flowering), the Blooming God. The month was named after the festival. 2 Hermes Soul –guide (Psychopompos). 3 On this day the Gods were not present in Athens except Hermes and Dionysus, who shared the same underworld capacities.