Today is Clean Monday. It marks the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church. It’s a ‘roaming’ holiday that falls on the 7th Monday before Pascha (Greek Easter), which this year is April 15. For western Christianity, Easter is April 1. It’s complicated why the two Easters fall on different days, but there are two basic reasons:
- The Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar and the Catholic and Protestant churches follow the Gregorian calendar. There is a 13 day difference between the two calendars.
- The Orthodox Church adheres to the early Christian Church practices (First Ecumenical Council in 325) that require Easter fall after Passover in order to uphold the sequence in the Bible of the passion and death of Christ. Western churches do not always observe this so western Easter could fall before or during Passover.
Clean Monday is about ditching sin and non-fasting foods. The Sunday prior there are special church services in the name of forgiveness, so everyone can begin Lent with a clean conscience. It’s customary to go to confession this week and to clean the house thoroughly.
Eating meat, eggs and dairy is forbidden to Orthodox Christians throughout the entire Lenten period. Shellfish is permitted because it doesn’t have blood. Traditional foods for today include taramosalata, a delicious, salty fish roe spread, gigantes, maroulosalata, a lettuce salad with simple vinaigrette, grilled octopus, boiled shrimp, calamari, and a bread called lagana –pictured above — a oval-shaped flatbread covered in sesame seeds. You serve all this with ouzo and finish with halva – a candy of sorts made from tahini and sesame seeds; it comes from the arabic word for ‘sweet.’
The fun part of Clean Monday is that it’s a national holiday that celebrates the beginning of Spring. The tradition goes back to ancient times when Greeks would celebrate the seasons’ change with worship and festivals dedicated to Dionysos, the god of wine and feasts. It’s customary to fly kites. So we did. Papou bought kites last week for Valentine’s Day (boy are we mixing the US traditions with Greek ones) for Michael, Peter, Giorgos and Little Katerina. Big Katerina came over this afternoon and we all went down to the beach and worked on our kite flying skills. The wind was etsi-ketsi (so-so). We’d get the kites airborne and sometimes they’d swoop right back down. But it was fun and there were tons of people doing the same thing all along the Voula beaches.
The weekend has been beautiful. Saturday and Sunday were sunny; today is cloudy but not cold. We spent time Saturday in a great park in Glyfada riding scooters, ziplining, climbing and kicking a soccer ball. Sunday we hung out in the square for the Apokries carnival where most kids were in costume. Signs of summer re-emerged yesterday with the square full of bikes and scooters and tons of people.