Clean Monday

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Clean Monday

Kathari Deftera

Clean Monday constitutes the first full day of Lent for Orthodox Christians. It marks the beginning of Clean Week, the first week of Lent in the Orthodox faith tradition. Clean Monday falls on the Monday following the seventh Sunday before Orthodox Easter (see also Easter, Date of). This Sunday, called Forgiveness Sunday, is the last day on which observant Orthodox Christians may eat dairy products and other foods forbidden during the Lenten fast. Lent begins on the evening of Forgiveness Sunday, following the vespers, or evening, church service.

Orthodoxy is one of the three main branches of the Christian faith. Orthodox Christianity developed in eastern Europe and the countries surrounding the eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea. Orthodox Christians follow a different church calendar than that commonly followed by Western Christians. Clean Monday is an Orthodox observance not found among Western Christians, that is, among Roman Catholics and Protestants. Instead, they begin their observance of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

In Greece, a country in which the vast majority of the population are Orthodox Christians, Clean Monday, or Kathari Deftera, is a national holiday. Rather than treat it as a somber occasion, the Greeks celebrate the first day of Lent. In fact, most Greeks find the festivities of Clean Monday so enjoyable that they consider the day to be an extension of Carnival. Many Greek families pack picnic lunches and head out to city parks or picturesque sites in the country. These lunches usually include an assortment of foods permitted during the fast, including lagana, a special bread baked only on Clean Monday. Other Lenten foods that often find their way inside the picnic basket include taramosalata, a spread made with potatoes and fish eggs, shellfish, salad, pickled vegetables, green onions, fruit, and halvah, a sweet made of crushed sesame seeds and sugar. Kite flying is a customary pastime at these picnics.

Further Reading

Rouvelas, Marilyn. A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America. Bethesda, MD: Nea Attiki Press, 1993.
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