It’s almost the time of year for the capital to be transformed by harlequins, colorful maypoles, satyrs and music as the City of Athens gets ready to launch celebrations for the 2006 Carnival season. The festivities are set to begin on February 23 – or Tsiknopempti as Greeks call the first day of Carnival, when families and friends gather for a meaty feast – and running to Clean Monday on March 6, conventionally celebrated with Lenten dishes and kite-flying. «Over the past three years, Athenians have responded with great enthusiasm to the annual Carnival festivities,» said Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis at a press presentation yesterday. «This means that this year we must raise the fun factor,» she added, outlining the program of events. Tsiknopempti, dubbed «Smoke Thursday» by the City of Athens, begins in the morning with maypole dancers and masked characters in colorful costumes dancing and singing their way from Ermou Street to Kotzia Square, where they will be met later by actors Jessie Papoutsi and Pavlos Kontoyiannidis arriving in an antique carriage. The apex of the celebrations includes a feast of traditional tidbits, abundant wine, singing and satirical skits that are traditional around the country. For the two weeks following the opening of the Carnival celebrations, the City of Athens has organized a string of events for youngsters and adults throughout the city. Peaking on weekends, there will be happenings and concerts at Kotzia, Koliatsou and Pangrati squares, as well as at the Panormou metro station and at Fokionos Negri. Plaka and Syntagma are always focal points of celebrations, as numerous troupes performing traditional songs, dances and satirical skits from around the country take to the streets, drawing the public into the often racy performances. On Clean Monday, Stella Koniotopoulou, Savvas Siatras and Manolis Kontaros will present traditional island songs and dances on Philopappou Hill, Psarantonis and his group will present Cretan music at Skouze Hill, and actor Nikos Kalogeropoulos and his troupe will appear on Strefi Hill with a performance titled «Penniless Lords.» For more detailed information of the schedule of events, visit www.cityofathens.gr.