credits: bonjourathenes.fr
credits: bonjourathenes.fr

The religious holidays in Greece are many, and even if you're not religious, they offer the perfect opportunity for relaxation and good old fun. Clean Monday is one of those holidays that give Greeks an additional reason to celebrate, and we, for one, are more than ready to grab it! 

Read below all there is to know about Clean Monday in Greece and honor the local culture with a trip to Greece

What Is Clean Monday?

kites free imagesKite flying - credits: free-images.com

On Clean Monday, Lent begins for the Orthodox Church, while at the same time, it means the end of the Carnival in Greece

It is also a day of fasting and a day of rest for Christians. The fast lasts for 40 days, which was the number of days of Christ's fasting in the desert. It is celebrated 48 days before the Sunday of the Resurrection of Christ, the Christian Easter.

When is Clean Monday?

carnival greece Yiorgos GR shutterstockGreek Carnival - credits: Yiorgos-GR/Shutterstock.com

Clean Monday is a mobile holiday, which depends on the date of Easter. Specifically, Clean Monday falls every year at the beginning of the 7th week, 48 days before Orthodox Easter, and obviously always on a Monday. 

Why is it called Clean Monday?

kite dimitrisvetsikas1969 pixabayKite flying - credits: dimitrisvetsikas1969_/Pixabay.com

Clean Monday was named so because it calls people to leave behind all sinful habits, including non-fasting food, thus "purifying" or "cleansing" the body and soul.

The Sunday before Clean Monday is, according to Orthodox tradition, the last day people can eat meat. That Sunday is also called 'Tyrofagou' because it is the last day people can eat dairy, as 'tyri' means 'cheese.'

The celebration of Clean Monday in the countryside is also known as 'Koulouma.' Many Municipalities around the country organize events with concerts or other cultural activities. However, although the word 'Koulouma' is used almost all over Greece, its origin is unclear. 

According to one view, the term is Athenian and comes from the pillars (columns) of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, for which the Athenians used the Latin word 'columna.'

Traditions of Clean Monday

lagana madamegingerLagana bread - credits: madameginger.com

The day of Clean Monday is intensely celebrated throughout Greece, with various customs. It is an official national holiday. It is common all over Greece to eat lagana, the famous unleavened bread prepared only that day, taramas, halva, seafood, vegetables, olives, and bean soup without oil.

The main customs throughout Greece include kite flying and the so-called 'Gaitanaki,' a tradition brought by the refugees from Asia Minor.

 In Mesta, Olympus, and Lithi of Chios island, the 'Aga' custom is revived with its roots in the Ottoman Empire. In a play, 'Aga' -an honorific title for a civilian or military officer- as a judge humorously condemns the spectators.

Another custom with roots in the Ottoman Empire is that of the disguise of a resident of Alexandroupolis in a 'Bey' - a title among Turkish peoples traditionally given to rulers of small tribal groups, to members of ruling families, and important officials- and his wandering in the city sharing wishes. 

The inhabitants of Poros clean their culinary preparations from the fats of the meat consumed during Halloween in a custom called 'ksartisma.'

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In some villages of Corfu, the Dance of the Popes takes part, where the priests set up a dance followed by the elders. 

In Karpathos, the residents who exchanged indecent gestures are brought to the People's Court of Immoral Acts by the Jafiedes, the gendarmes, for justice to be delivered by the respected people of the city.

Flour smudging is the leading custom in Galaxidi, where the carnivalists sprinkle each other with flour and dance in a circle. 

In Methoni, Messinia, 'Koutroulis's wedding' takes place, which is a representation of a real wedding of the 14th century, while in Nedousa, the farmers invite prosperity with their agricultural carnival.

In Vonitsa, a straw fisherman tied to a donkey, returning through the village, ends up in a burning boat in the custom of 'Achyrenios-Gligorakis.' At the same time, in Thebes, the 'Koutroulis' wedding' takes place where the groom shaves to marry a fellow villager. 

Finally, the 'Moutzourides' custom in Polysito Vistonidas includes the smudging of visitors of the village with tobacco.

Flying the Kite

kite Agnieszka Ziomeka unsplashVarious kites - credits: Agnieszka_Ziomeka/Unsplash.com

No matter how one celebrates Clean Monday, whatever one chooses to put on one's table, the day requires -if the weather allows it, of course- the traditional kite flying!

Apart from a charming custom, the traditional kite flying on Clean Monday, as the skies are filled with fancy colors and intricate designs, is a first-class opportunity to unwind from the sedentary life and enjoy nature and the countryside.

In the Greek tradition, the kite's flight symbolizes the flight of the human soul to its Creator. Therefore, according to the custom, it must fly in the sky on Clean Monday, the day when the Lent fast begins, that is, the day when our spiritual and physical purification begins. 

Through this process, it is believed that people get closer to God, and this contact is symbolized by the kite that also approaches God as it flies high in the sky. 

Despite being a Greek tradition, the first kites appeared in ancient China. The tradition continued through the centuries and spread to the West. Today, you can find kites made of all kinds of materials adapted to the culture of each region.

Clean Monday Menu

tsipouro mezedes Lydia Vero shutterstockLent meze - credits: Lydia Vero/Shutterstock.com

Although Clean Monday marks the first day of Lent, the day's menu is anything but poor.

First and foremost, on the table comes lagana, a type of unleavened bread made without yeast. It has a characteristic wide shape for easy baking. This unleavened bread has ancient roots, as there are many references to lagana in ancient texts. One theory is that lagana resembles the Israelites' bread when they left Egypt, from the time Christ blessed bread.

Of course, no meal of Clean Monday is complete without the favorite and very healthy sesame halva, tarama, olives, vegetables of all kinds, and all sorts of pickles.

The true foodies usually indulge in seafood such as squid, octopus, cuttlefish, and shellfish, such as mussels and oysters. At the same time, the more traditional ones prefer vegan food, honoring the delicious traditional bean soup.

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halva Alp Aksoy shutterstockTraditional Greek Halva - credits: Alp Aksoy/Shutterstock.com

Kouluma is an excellent opportunity to get out of obscurity fasting appetizers, sweets, and delicacies missing from the daily table. Seafood, legumes, and vegetables star in the family gatherings, filling a table that smells like Greece!

  • Lagana: The bread with the nice crispy crust, traditionally made without yeast, is never missing from the table on Clean Monday. It goes perfectly with all the lenten delicacies you will make.
  • Tarama fish roe salad: It appears in many versions at the Lent table. You can make it with white or red tarama by adding bread or potato, onion, or in some cases garlic, almonds, lemon, and an oil of your choice.
  • Halva: With a rich sesame flavor, tahini halva deservedly claims the title of the healthiest dessert. It is also known as grocer halva because it used to be sold in grocery stores, but today the shops offer halva for all tastes: from plain, with almonds or cocoa, to no sugar, with stevia, with mastic, with fruit pulp, among others.
  • Olives and pickles: All kinds of olives and pickles that we put on our table can change names and varieties, but what remains constant is their presence at the Lent table. Enjoy it plain, in a salad, or as a side dish to one of your mouthwatering dishes.
  • Squids and cuttlefish: At the Lent table, the sea has the essential dividend, not with its fish, but with its seafood. Squid and cuttlefish become exquisite appetizers. No matter how you make them, grilled, boiled, baked, fried, or stuffed with various herbs, they are simply delicious.
  • Octopus: A classic Clean Monday choice, octopus is a proposal of unique taste. It is delicious cooked with vegetables, such as okra or potatoes, or chopped pasta and tomato sauce. 
  • Shrimp and crayfish: The sizes and species you will find in the market are commensurate with their price, with Atlantic shrimp and crayfish number 0 holding the scepters at size and price. Medium-sized shrimp is a more affordable option, and boiled, sprinkled with plenty of lemon oil, is a meze that will not leave anyone indifferent. Larger sizes of shrimp or crayfish are better served grilled.
  • Mussels: Fresh or frozen, steamed or in a nice mussel pilaf, as a meze or as a main dish; no matter how you make them, they will leave their mark on the table with their characteristic taste. 
  • Dolmadakia: It may be simple food in the ingredients, but it takes a long time to make it since the wrapping process is a hassle. The luscious taste of wine leave rolls stuffed with a rice and herb mix is more than worth the effort. 
  • Salad with legumes: Black-eyed beans, chickpeas, and lentils, in addition to being cooked, are also made into delicious and nutritious salads with a variety of vegetables and dressings.

Where to spend your Clean Monday in Greece

carnival greece Yiorgos GR shutterstock2Greek Carnival - credits: Yiorgos-GR/Shutterstock.com

The three days off the Clean Monday offers is one of the favorite times for excursions in the country and not unjustly.

It is an opportunity for a quick escape from everyday life, while all destinations are suitable, whether on the mountain or the sea. 

However, some places are extremely attractive for a spring trip that have a taste of tradition. Here, we have selected the best destinations to celebrate Clean Monday in Greece if you feel like visiting the country during this time!

Galaxidi

Galaxidi Greece Panos Karas depositphotosGalaxidi - credits: Panos_Karas/Depositphotos.com

An excellent destination is the coastal Galaxidi, where the 'Flour War' is traditionally held, a custom that has been maintained since 1801.

Although Galaxidi was under Turkish occupation, all the inhabitants waited for the Carvial to have fun in those years. The dancers wore masks or simply painted their faces with charcoal. 

Then the flour, the indigo, and the shoe polish were added. According to other scholars and folklorists, the roots of the custom are found in Byzantium, in the jockeys of the Hippodrome who painted their faces. 

Today the flour war takes place on the waterfront after lunch. A large convoy of cars with bells and whistles starts from the bridge of the National Road near the Primary School and passes through the main streets of Galaxidi, reaching the port. There, the teams start their "battles," and the party lasts until late at night.

Methoni

methoni castle messinia Constantinos Iliopoulos shutterstockMethoni Castle - credits: Constantinos Iliopoulos/Shutterstock.com

One of the most beautiful areas of Greece, Methoni on Clean Monday, offers visitors the opportunity to attend the Wedding of Koutroulis, a custom from the 14th century. 

According to the legend, the last Greek knight, Ioannis Koutroulis, fell in love with a local, but she was married. So he stole her and decided to live with her, which caused the woman to be aphorized by the Church. 

The revival of the custom takes place inside the castle, the newlyweds are two men, who together with the relatives go to the square, where the wedding takes place with a priest and a best man. 

There, the dowry agreement is read, and a three-course feast follows. In addition, every year, the dialogues are enriched with current affairs since satire is an integral part of the Greek carnival.

Naoussa

naousssa imathias i love greece.blogspotNaoussa - credits: i-love-greece.blogspot.com

If you still prefer the mountainous places, Naoussa with the custom of 'Genitsaroi and Boules' is ideal. 

The custom dates back to the 18th century when the people of Naoussa appeared at Carnival with wax masks of Janissaries to honor the lads who resisted the Sultan in 1705. Still, its roots are traced to festivals from ancient Greece, dedicated to the God Dionysus. 

Nowadays, the decoration of the Janissaries starts early on Sunday morning, and then the herds are gathered, which together with drums, will pass through the town hall to get the mayor's permission to dance in the city. 

The festivities continue throughout the day. Finally, the culmination of the custom takes place on Sunday afternoon, where the dancers arrive at Alonia Square, take off their masks, dance, and then proceed singing in the narrow alleys of the old town to reach Dioikitirio Square.

Karpathos

Karpathos Pawel Kazmierczak shuttestockKarpathos - credits: Pawel_Kazmierczak/Shuttestock.com

Those who prefer the Greek islands should visit the picturesque Karpathos. There they will have the opportunity to attend the People's Court of Immorality. 

Some of the participants make ugly gestures to others and are arrested by the Jafiedes (gendarmes) to be taken to the Court, which is the island's respected. After that, the trial-parody turns into a party with teasing and jokes, good food, wine, and of course, traditional music.

Skyros

Skyros yiannisscheidt shutterstockSkyros - credits: yiannisscheidt/Shutterstock.com

Also, in Skyros, almost all the inhabitants in traditional costumes descend to the island's square, where they dance and sing local songs, reviving the custom of 'Geros and Korela.'

The 'geros' -or 'old man'- has his face covered with a bit of goat's sheepskin, wears a thick black cape and woven breeches, and has in the middle 2-3 rows of heavy bells. 

At the same time, the 'corela' is his queen dressed in traditional Skyrian clothes, with white being the predominant color so that it is in complete contrast with the black color of the 'old man.' She also has her face covered.

Thebes

visitthiva.grThebes - credits: visitthiva.gr

Much closer to Athens, offering an ideal opportunity for a day trip from the capital is the historic Thebes, where on Clean Monday, the revival of the Vlach Wedding takes place. 

On Monday morning, each 'poulouki' lights a fire in the central square, on the pedestrian street of Epapinondas Street, and the "propyra," the bride's pie, is baked on the embers. 

Around the fire, the men dance 'Pyrrichios.' Then, the people gather in the picturesque chapel of "Agiatriada" for food. The Vlachs set a common table - fasting food, which is shared with all visitors, drinking the fine retsina wine of Thebes.

At two in the afternoon, the wedding procession begins. The couple rides in a carriage, dragged by select horses, while the guests follow dancing. 

The procession ends at the pedestrian street of Epaminondas, where the in-laws' huts are located. They will shave the groom there, while the famous mocking dialogue of the two in-laws about the "defect" of the bride is also played. Then, the big secret of the bride is shared, and finally, the in-laws resolve their differences!

Tyrnavos

bourani onlarissa.gr'Bourani' custom in Tyrnavos - credits: ypaithros.gr

Finally, the folk festival of Tyrnavos, with roots from ancient Greece and the feast of the phallus, deserves your attention. The city inhabitants go to the chapel of Prophet Elias organized in groups. 

Each group lays various food on the ground and a sizeable phallus-shaped bottle filled with wine or an ouzo or tsipouro alloy with water. At the same time, they light fires and prepare the traditional 'Bourani,' a vegetable soup of spinach and vinegar, which is offered to everyone.

Around the 'Bourani,' a game scene is set up with phallic symbols and bold puns. There are two versions of the origin of the custom. The first mentions that its roots are in the ancient holidays of the Greeks: Dionysia, Thesmophoria, Aphrodisia, or Thargilia

The second version wants the custom to come from Arvanites who settled in Tyrnavos around 1770. This version is probably the most prevalent, as it is documented by historical data since it is said that at that time, a cholera epidemic broke out in Tyrnavos, and most of its inhabitants died tragically.

As you see, Greece is anything but boring even during the off-season! On the contrary, it is full of fun and quirky traditions and customs that give visitors the time of their lives. So treat yourself and explore them yourselves!