Get out your Kite and Sharpen your Appetite for Clean Monday. After the barbecue-festival of Tsiknopempti (Barbeque Thursday), this is the day when the people of East Crete and the whole of Greece mark the start of a season of fasting before the carnivorous celebrations that take place on Orthodox Easter, 40 days later.
It’s called “Kathari Deftera,” which is Greek for Clean Monday, and is considered to be one of the most important feasts all over Greece, each year commencing the 40-day period of the Great Lent for the Eastern Greek Orthodox Church, which is called “Sarakosti.” Sarakosti takes its name from Tessarakoste (Quadragesimal), which comes from the word forty, which is the forty day period until Palm Sunday.
During this period Greek Orthodox people fast so that their bodies and spirits are “cleansed”, as well as the purification of the mind through religious contemplation and to prepare for accepting the rising of Christ from the dead. During Sarakosti, no meat or dairy food are eaten. Lenten food, usually consists of taramasalata, vegetables, dried legumes and seafood, such as kalamari, octopus, shrimps, oysters, cuttlefish, mussels and lobsters. Fish is not allowed with the exception on two occasions: on the 25th of March (Annunciation of the Virgin Mary) and on Palm Sunday.
In East Crete families normally gather for a large Clean Monday lunch and sit at a table laden with various types of meze and food, the central stars of which are lagana, taramosalata and halva.
Taramosalata is a traditional dip made of the salted and cured roe from carp or cod, mixed with olive oil, lemon juice and bread crumbs. Taramasalata is ideal for spreading on the lagana, a special kind of unleavened flatbread with sesame seeds, baked only on this day. The history behind this bread dates from the Old Testament and to the help offered by God to the Israeli people while guiding them from Egypt to their promised land. Since then, Israelis have baked the lagana throughout the Easter period, hence introducing the tradition to the Greek Orthodox Church. As for dessert, an alteration to the familiar Arab “halva” is served, which is made of tahini, a sesame paste, and sugar, often combined by nuts or chocolate and baked in a square or cylindrical shape.
Apart from devouring delicious Clean Monday treats, tradition also dictates that you take to the hills or the countryside with a colourful kite to fly. Kite-flying has become a firmly-grounded tradition on Clean Monday in East Crete, and being a public holiday, it is a chance to enjoy the advancing spring weather and enjoying the sun who is already gearing up for better weather from this period on.
The feast of Clean Monday and all associated traditions and celebrations are in the hearts of the Greek people, as they provide an opportunity for leisure and escaping from the daily routine, while coming in contact with nature and the country’s cultural heritage.