Greek Orthodox Christians celebrate Clean Monday, aka Pure Monday, Ash Monday, Monday of Lent or Green Monday on the first day of Great Lent and it is a movable feast, falling on the 7th Monday before Pascha (Easter Sunday).
Clean Monday marks the end of the preceding Carnival celebrations, calling all Orthodox Christians to leave behind the sinful attitudes associated with the festivities and non-fasting foods, which are largely consumed during the three weeks of the Carnival. Liturgically, Clean Monday, and thus Lent itself, begins on the previous Sunday night, at a special service, in which all present will ask for forgiveness from one another and, in this way, the faithful begin the Great Lent with a clean conscience, forgiveness and renewed Christian love.
The feast, which is a public holiday in Greece, is celebrated with outdoor excursions, the consumption of fasting food, as well as the custom of building and flying kites.
Orthodox Christians traditionally abstain from eating meat, eggs and dairy products throughout Lent, with fish is being eaten only on major feast days. The consumption of shellfish and mollusks though, is permitted by the Greek Orthodox Church, thus creating the tradition of eating delicious dishes based on seafood, like cuttlefish, octopus, shrimp and mussels.
A traditional dip made of the salted and cured roe from carp or cod, mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and bread crumbs, is called taramosalata, and is also part of the products consumed on Clean Monday. Instead of bread, tradition calls for lagana, a special kind of unleavened flatbread, baked only on that day. Black-eyed beans or just common baked beans, grape-leaf wrapped rice balls called dolma, and various seasonal salads complete the Clean Monday feast, along with some Greek wine, tsipouro or ouzo. As for dessert, tradition calls for halva, an alteration to the familiar Arab dessert, made of tahini, a sesame paste, and sugar, often combined by nuts or chocolate and baked in a square or cylindrical shape.
"The Table of Clean Monday", 1950, as painted by Spyros Vassileiou (1903-1985).
Clean Monday, however, is not only associated with eating fasting products, but features also many traditions being held all over Greece. Traditionally, as Clean Monday is considered to mark the beginning of Spring, flying a kite is also part of the tradition. Young people and adults organize excursions to open areas, so as, winds permitting, to fill the skies with their kites. Many areas in Greece maintain their own regional customs. The feast of Clean Monday and all associated traditions and celebrations are in the hearts of the Greek people, as they provide an opportunity to escaping from the daily routine, while coming in contact with nature and the country’s cultural heritage.
Kites over the Athenian sky, as painted by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (1906-1994).
"Kites" instrumental composition by Mikis Theodorakis