Clean Monday: Eastern Orthodox Christians kick off Lent with a joyous holiday

Kite flying above water at sunset

A kite soars above Alimos Beach on Clean Monday in Greece. On this holiday, colorful kites fill the skies. Photo by Robert Wallace, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, MARCH 14: The Lenten season officially begins for Eastern Orthodox Christians with Clean Monday, a bright, joyous holiday celebrated with a special fervor in Greece and Cyprus. Eastern Orthodox Christians embrace the fasting season in merriment, as the Gospel instructs: When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance … But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret … (Matthew 6:16-18). Across Greece today, soft lagana bread—a Clean Monday treat, baked especially for this day—is par for the course, as are numerous shellfish dishes and a variety of other permissible foods. Many families gather to head outdoors, enjoying picnics and flying kites.

Did you know? While the 2016 Western Christian Lent began with Ash Wednesday on February 10, the movable date of Easter—and the method of counting 40 days in Lent—makes up the difference of date calculation between the Eastern Christian Pascha and Western Christian Easter.

Yesterday, Eastern Christians observed Cheesefare Sunday, when the faithful consumed dairy for the final time until Pascha. Eight days ago, adherents observed Meatfare Sunday—and until Pascha, meat will not be consumed. Today, Orthodox families begin the fast of Great Lent and avoid meat, dairy, wine and oil (with a few days of exception during Lent).

The entire week following Clean Monday is known throughout the Eastern Church as Clean Week, when it’s customary for men and women to attend Confession and clean their homes.

Interested in baking lagana? Find a recipe at the blog Lemon & Olives, or at The Greek Vegan.

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