Monday, 27 February 2012

Clean Monday (Καθαρά Δευτέρα)

Today is a public holiday in Greece, celebrating the start of the Great Lent. I originally published this post about Clean Monday through Suite101.

Clean Monday in Greece is a day of cleansing, as its name suggests, as well as a day of feasting, ending with a session of kite-flying.

Fasting and feasting

Clean Monday rings in the start of what is basically a mourning period in the religious calendar, peaking on Good Friday with the crucifixion and culminating with the climax of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the actual day is always celebrated in a much more positive light. For a start, the celebrants are usually to be found amidst family and friends. It is a food-centric event, with special menu items to serve the purposes of the fasting rules. The day finishes with a round of kite-flying, weather permitting, which denotes a sense of joyful youth. Clean Monday is a moveable feast, dependent on the day Easter falls, but it is often associated with the start of spring in Greece.

Traditional food

The food eaten on this day is mainly vegan, with the exception of shellfish. Some people prefer to eat out at a seaside taverna, but most people make the effort to cook the day’s specialties at home. Those who have access to a rural dwelling will endeavour to celebrate the day in the countryside or out in the open; picknicking is common. The main meal of the day is defined by taramosalata dip (made of fish roe) and lagana, a sesame-topped large flat bread traditionally baked only on this day by the whole country’s bakers. Salads, grain dishes, vegetarian soups and shellfish (including snails) accompanied them. There is an infinite variety in the meals prepared for this day, reflecting the wide mainly plant-based range of meals found in Greek cuisine, including desserts, namely halva and fried eggless dough shapes. Most home cooks will maintain tradition by offering lenten meals associated with Clean Monday, but the greater variety of food available in Greece in modern times provides a wealth of opportunities for improvisation.

Clean Monday (in Greek: Καθαρα Δευτερα) signifies the start of Great Lent, the beginning of the 49-day lenten season (the fasting period) before Easter Sunday is celebrated in the Christian Orthodox church. In Greece, although officially classified as a religious holiday, it is regarded as a special day of celebration by all Greeks, regardless of their religious affiliations. Nowadays, most people do not follow the fasting rules to the letter as set down by the Greek Orthodox church, but most Greeks will adhere to them on this day; this is more to do with the cathartic need to rid the body of toxins gathered from the over-indulgence of the Apokries (Carnival) period preceding Clean Monday, when meat was the central focus of the meals. Fasting is a way to cleanse the body of impurities, and the meals eaten on Clean Monday reflect this to some extent. In any case, the day is now rarely regarded as a purely religious event to be celebrated according to religious norms.

Religious holiday

Because Clean Monday is a holiday which always falls on a three-day weekend, people will gather in family groups. Special meals are cooked, referred to as lenten (νηστισιμα), since meat or dairy products are not traditionally permitted according to the fasting rules. Although fish is also excluded from today’s diet, shellfish are in fact allowed, because they are considered to be bloodless. The most devout will also abstain from olive oil on this day, although this is in fact rare in modern times.

[CIMG2849.JPG]Meal choices

A meal to be served on Clean Monday requires good planning rather than any special cooking techniques. Here is a selection of fasting foods combining Greek favorites and elements of the regional cuisine of the island of Crete. The menu includes s designed to provide a choice of dishes that form a balanced meal when combined. Most of the dishes require quite a bit of work in their preparation (or cleaning up afterwards!), but not in their cooking technique. They all represent part of the traditional meal of the day.
(This article was originally published at Suite101).

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