Clean Monday, the first day of the Greek Orthodox Great Lent, is a day of celebration. In villages around Greece, tables are set and stocked with the traditional foods of the day to welcome visiting friends and family. Greeks gather - as families, friends, or entire communities - to enjoy a day of picnics at the beach or the countryside with traditional foods, music, kite-flying and dancing.  Kite-flying is a traditional part of this day. Then they join for a feast enjoying the allowed foods and special Lenten dishes.

     The whole weekend preceding "Clean Monday" offers vigorous parties, parades, and traditional events due to the Carnival (see related post "Apokries-Carnival").

     While a holiday atmosphere still prevails, "Clean Monday" or "Kathari Theftera" marks the start of the Lenten period "Sarakosti" (40-day Lent before Easter). It is called "clean" because it starts a period during which our bodies and spirits are "cleansed" to prepare for accepting the Resurrection at Easter which is the most sacred of all observances in the Greek Orthodox faith.   

     Clean Monday is a public holiday in Greece and everything is closed. Children make the "Kyra Sarakosti," (Lady Lent), a paper doll with seven legs to represent the seven weeks of Lent. At the end of every week, a leg is cut off to show how many weeks remain until Easter.
     All the foods consumed on Clean Monday are all "pure" without the shedding of blood and since it is a time of fasting, it means abstaining from foods that contain animals with red blood (meats, poultry, game) and products from animals with red blood (milk, cheese, eggs, etc.), and fish and seafood with backbones. Olive oil and wine are also restricted. 

     Modern day Greeks do not abstain from all these food groups, unfortunately the vigorous rhythms of daily life are too demanding for that, even though many do succeed in doing it. Older people are the ones who do solemnly fast. It goes without saying, that children and sick people are excluded.

     Foods eaten during Lent are restricted, but that doesn't mean Lenten dishes are boring and bland, on the contrary!
Here's a small sample of Lenten dishes:

(rice filled grape leaves)

mussels with lemon juice

 Greek-Style Boiled Shrimp
Boiled shrimp with a delicious oil and lemon sauce
Taramasalata: Fish Roe Dip
Tarama (cod or carp roe) is sometimes called "the common man's caviar." Combined with olive oil and bread, it makes one of the tastiest and most famous of all Greek dips.
Maroulosalata: Cos (Romaine) Lettuce Salad
Fresh, crisp greens with green onions leeks (if desired) with a light vinegar and oil dressing.
Yigandes Plaki: Baked Bean Casserole
Yigandes are similar to giant dried Lima beans, and this oven-to-table casserole combines them with tomatoes, onions, herbs, and spices to create a fabulous dish.
Htapothi sti Skhara: Grilled Octopus
Octopus grilled over an open flame is a classic Greek meze (snack) to serve with ouzo and wine, and a favorite on Clean Monday.
Lagana: A flat bread traditionally served on this day

 fried calamari is a delicious dish as well

potato salad with parsley, dill, green onion, onion, capers, olive oil and red wine vinegar

and for dessert...
Halvas: Semolina Pudding
Halvas can be made in many different ways, and this version is made with honey, nuts, raisins, and the tastes of cinnamon and cloves, for a wonderful dessert.
Complete the table with Greek olives and fresh fruit.
And to drink? Ouzo, of course.

Καλη Σαρακοστη !!!
Have a good Lent !!!


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