Greece’s Carnival season, known as Apokries, traditionally begins ten weeks before Greek Orthodox Easter and culminates at the weekend before Clean Monday, the first day of Lent.
Let us have a look at the traditional Clean Monday celebrations and the colourful kites flying high again this year.
Last year, both Carnival and Clean Monday celebrations could not take place due to the Covid-19 restrictions.
CLEAN MONDAY TRADITIONS IN GREECE
Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Clean Monday, Ash Monday or Monday of Lent, on the first day of Great Lent, which is a movable feast, falling on the 7th Monday before Easter Sunday.
Greek people are known for their dedication to traditions.
When the carnival festive season is over, the period of fasting until Easter begins.
As a period of purification of the body and spirit, there are strict rules about fasting in the Greek Orthodox Religion. Food deriving from anything with red blood e.g. meat and fish, or products coming from red blooded animals (milk, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, etc.) does not have to be on the menu. Since Greek Easter is based on the Julian calendar, Easter Sunday is on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the Spring Equinox, and all these dates vary each year.
Clean Monday is a day of joy and excitement and is – in corona free times – magnificently celebrated throughout the country. In Greek Clean Monday is Καθαρά Δευτέρα (Kathara Deftera).
It is also called τα Κούλουμα ( Koulouma)
Clean Monday, one of the most important bank holidays in Greece, does not have a stable day of celebration but depends on Orthodox Easter. Clean Monday is celebrated 48 days before Orthodox Easter, marking the beginning of the Great Lent period.
One traditional activity on Clean Monday is kite-flying. When the weather allows it, young and old, families and friends go to the countryside or the beaches and try to fly a kite.
In the past, the kites used to be handmade by the father or grandfather of the family. Thus, the art of kite making was passed on from one generation to the other. Today most people buy a kite instead of making it. Either way, it is a great bonding activity for families.
The kite symbolizes the human soul flying up into the sky, free and pure, the passing of the human soul to Heaven and God. Through this process, the believers are getting ready for the Ressurection of Jesus Christ and the Orthodox Easter.
People in older times believed that the higher their kite flew the more possible it would be for their prayers to be heard by God.
The custom of flying kites on Clean Monday is directly linked to the spiritual state of mind of Orthodox Christians: on this day, they start on the path of physical and spiritual purification, through a long fasting period, and thus rededicate themselves to a more righteous way of living.
History of the kite.
(in Greek, you have to use Google translate)
The custom of flying a kite goes back to ancient China, to at least 1,000 BC.
The first kite in Greece appeared in ancient times, around 400 BC. At that time, mathematician and engineer Archytas (440-360 BC), from Taranto, southern Italy, is said to have invented the first kite in Greece for his aerodynamics studies.
The first kites that were spotted in Greece in the post-modern era came from the eastern areas and more specifically Chios and Samos, until they eventually made their way to the city of Patra and became common all around the country.
Culinary traditions on Clean Monday
Clean Monday is the first day of Lent until the Orthodox Easter, the greatest religious celebration for Orthodoxy.
Orthodox Christians traditionally abstain from eating meat, eggs and dairy products throughout Lent. However, with shellfish and mollusks permitted by the Greek Orthodox Church, the fasting day allows eating delicious dishes based on seafood, like cuttlefish, octopus, shrimps and mussels.
The typical Clean Monday menu contains the following:
Lagana (Λαγάνα): a special flat, oval shaped bread without yeast, prepared only for this day.
It is related to the “help”, the unleavened bread that God sent to the Jewish people to get out of Egypt.
Tarama salata: a fish roe dip, which is most popular during the Lent period, consisting of mashed potatoes, fish roe, onions, olive oil, lemon juice, and sometimes also breadcrumbs. There is the classic white one and the pink dip.
Seafood: all kinds of seafood play a major role. Grilled octopus, grilled or stuffed squid, and mussels are this day’s specials.
You may also find dishes with black-eyed beans or just common baked beans, dolmades (a special rice mixture wrapped in grape-leaves), or the super tasty Fava made from the yellow split peas.
Halva: this is a sweet dish, the recipe originating from the Middle East, but it is also common in the Balkans. There are two types: the first one consisting of semolina pudding and raisins and the second one is made of tahini – made of tahini, a sesame paste, often combined by nuts. The latter is preferred on Clean Monday because it contains neither olive oil, nor butter or eggs.
Many areas in Greece have, of course, their own regional customs. The feast of Clean Monday and all the associated traditions and celebrations are in the hearts of the Greek people, as they provide an opportunity of escaping from the daily routine, while coming in contact with nature and the country’s cultural heritage.
LENT and FASTING
Fasting for the ancient Greeks was rather limited, as it was not imposed on the entire population.The kings, priests and generals fasted before sacrifices or important events for which they wanted to receive an oracle as well as the participants in the sacraments.
Fasting was especially widespread among the Egyptians, who, according to Herodotus, fasted for religious and hygienic reasons.
From the Egyptians the custom of fasting passed to the Greeks, the Jews and later to the Christians and the Muslims.
It is said that the young Pythagoras, during his first searches, traveled to Egypt, where he asked to be admitted to a school of priests to find knowledge. He repeatedly asked to be allowed in but was always chased away by the priests.
In the end he was accepted but on the condition that he would fast for 40 days, during which he had to breathe in a certain way and focus his perception on certain points.
After 40 days and after having finally completed the process he was accepted.
The magical power of the number 40, which is repeatedly found in many parts of religious and folklore traditions, marks both the days of Jesus in the desert and the fasting of the faithful during Lent.
In the past when calendars were missing and people wanted to have some sense of time during Lent, they pretended Lent to be like a Nun.
They took a piece of paper and drew a woman, without mouth as she was fasting and without ears so that she could not hear. Her hands were crossed, because she was praying. This drawing was cut out then.
She had 7 feet, representing the 7 weeks of Lent, one foot for each week after Shrove Monday. Every Saturday they cut a leg from their Mrs. Lent. The last one was cut on Holy Saturday.
Mrs. Lent was also often made of a kind of salt dough.
Και μετρούσαν τις ημέρες
με τα πόδια της τα εφτά
κόβαν ένα τη βδομάδα,
μέχρι να ρθει η Πασχαλιά!
Καλή Σαρακοστή! (source: www.huffingtonpost.gr)
The Lady of Lent
which is an old custom
our grandmothers made her
with flour and water!
They decorated her
on her head a cross
and they forgot her mouth
because he was fasting for a long time!
And they counted the days
on her seven feet
cut one a week,
until Easter comes!