The first Monday of Lent which is called “Kathara Deftera” and means Clean Monday, is a Public Holiday in Greece and Cyprus and marks the beginning of Lent. It is celebrated all over Greece and Cyprus with a picnic at the fields and mountains (or parks or nearby hills in the big cities). Events and activities take place in all towns and villages which feature plenty of music, dancing and delicious vegetarian food at the start of this Orthodox festival of fasting and contemplation.
Saracosti, which is the great period of Lent before the Orthodox Easter takes its name from Tessaracoste (Quadragesimal), which comes from the word forty, which is the forty day period until Palm Sunday and then one more week until Easter day makes a total of 49 days of “fasting”. During this period we fast so that our bodies and spirits are “cleansed” to prepare for accepting the Resurrection.
During Saracosti, no meat or dairy food are eaten. Lenten food, usually consists of vegetables, dried legumes and seafood, such as kalamari, octopus, shrimps, oysters, cuttlefish, mussels, lobsters etc. Fish is not allowed with the exception on two occasions: on the 25th of March (Annunciation of the Virgin Mary) and on Palm Sunday.
Macedonian Halvas, is one of the main Lenten sweets, especially the variety made with tahini and sold in block or brick form. This type of halva is sold by weight and comes plain, flavoured with chocolate, or studded with nuts and we love eating it for breakfast or sprinkled with lemon juice and cinnamon on top, as a dessert.
Another tradition on Clean Monday is kite-flying. Wherever you look up in the sky you will see thousands of kites.
The kites were know in ancient Greece and we know that Archytas, who was a well known mechanic (4th century B.C.) used a kite in his aerodynamics. We also know this from ancient pottery and there is a scene on one depicting a young woman holding a kite. Of course paper was not known at the time but instead of paper they used cloth with which they made their sails.
Each part of Greece has its own traditions and some of the most unusual ones are that of Tyrnavos where all the inhabitants of the town of Tyrnavos gather in the region of the small church of Prophitis Elias to make the “bourani” soup. Bourani is a vegetarian soup with spinach, stinging nettles, and vinegar, which are boiled for lots of hours. During the preparation of bourani, people tease each other with phallic models and indecent language is used and provocative movements are made. It is said that this tradition has ancient roots and this custom has been strongly influenced by Bacchic rituals. In the past women were not allowed to attend but today there is no such problem and in fact many edible things such as ice creams, lollipops or even bread have the shape of a phallus. Large phallus feature all over the town and they even wear them on their heads as hats, on their nose with funny eye glasses etc.
Another custom is alevromoutzouromata. At Galaxidi fires are lit almost every night and the local carnival events culminate in the festivities of Clean Monday. After the end of the float parade, people have lunch together at home or in the countryside. Then, they go to the marketplace where they carry ashes and flour in bags and throw them not only at each other but also at unsuspecting passers-by. The coast is transformed into a battlefield very quickly.
I shall not post any recipe today but during these fifty days of Lent I shall be posting some of the recipes I prepared today as well as other ones. Today I baked a Lagana (flatbread), prepared Dolmades Yialantzi, meaning fake dolmades as they are without the ground meat and are therefore vegetarian, Taramosalata, is a dip made with fish roe, Htapodi Salata (an Octopus and Potato Salad ) and Eliopitakia (small olive pies). For dessert, I made Halvas, a semolina dessert cooked in a pot.
You can find many Lenten recipes here.