“Clean Monday” in Greece and Cyprus

Published 18th March 2013
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Clean Monday (Greek: Καθαρά Δευτέρα), also known as Pure Monday or Ash Monday, is the first day of the Eastern Orthodox Christian, Saint Thomas Christians of India and Eastern Catholic Great Lent. It is a movable feast that occurs at the beginning of the 7th week before Orthodox Easter Sunday.

The denomination Clean Monday signifies the beginning of the Easter lent and symbolically also refers to the moral obligation of refraining from sinful attitudes. Traditionally, Clean Monday it is considered to mark the beginning of the spring season as well and this is precisely the reason why all of the customs of the day take place outdoors. The happy, springtime atmosphere of Clean Monday may seem at odds with the Lenten spirit of repentance and self-control, but this seeming contradiction is a marked aspect of the Orthodox approach to fasting.

Clean Monday is a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus, where it is celebrated with outdoor excursions, picnics and the widespread custom of flying kites. Typical food of the day includes a special kind of bread baked only on that day, named lagana (Greek: λαγάνα), and taramosalata. The last is made from taramas, which is salted and cured fish roe. The roe is mixed with either bread crumbs or mashed potato, and lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil, and it has a typical creamy-pink colour. It is usually eaten as a dip, with lagana and/or raw vegetables, seafood and other fasting food. Eating meat, eggs and dairy products is traditionally forbidden to Orthodox Christians throughout Lent, with fish being eaten only on major feast days, but shellfish is permitted in European denominations. This has created the tradition of eating elaborate dishes based on seafood (shellfish, molluscs, fish roe etc.).

Happy Clean Monday everyone!

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