Clean Monday Greece: What’s The March Holiday About?

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Clean Monday is one of the country’s major feast days and a public holiday in Greece. If you’re in the country, you might enjoy joining in some of the customs and traditions.

When Is Clean Monday?

In Greek, the day is called Kathara Deftera, but it isn’t observed on a specific date each year. It marks the first day of Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church, and like Greek Easter, it’s a movable feast.

This first day of the great Lent falls seven weeks before Palm Sunday and Holy Monday. In 2024, Clean Monday is on 18th March.

How Do The Greeks Fast for Lent?

The point of Lent is to cleanse the body in the lead-up to Easter. The Greek culture traditionally swung between periods of eating large amounts of meat and cheese and the lighter, fasting weeks.

Clean Monday (or technically the Sunday night before) is the switch from the overindulgence of Carnival season to eating clean and simple meals throughout Lent.

Historically, Greek Orthodox Christians fasted on an almost vegan diet in the weeks before significant religious days. And the Monday is a strict fast day. However, in this context, fasting means refraining from certain types of food rather than eating nothing at all.

So, from Clean Monday (also known as Pure Monday) until Easter, those strictly following the Orthodox Christian religion cut out pretty much all animal products. Traditionally, dairy products, eggs, meat and most fish were out.

Lagana bread and taramasalata

Honey seems to be ok, and seafood without a backbone is allowed. Fish is otherwise excluded, except on certain feast days. For example, Greek Independence Day on 25th March.

Interestingly, olive oil was traditionally excluded, too. It seems like the thinking has relaxed now. Although, the rules around when you can and can’t have it are a bit confusing. The strictest observers still avoid it.

It is used to make Lagana Bread, though, so that seems to be ok. I’ve found there’s a website called Ask an Orthodox Priest you can use to get some clarity about these things (amongst others!).

Anyway, the point is to eat simple foods to “weaken” the body (and the hold food and other indulgences have over you) through the fasting period. Meals during this time should be made with basic, fasting food without switching to meat alternatives and the like.

What Are Clean Monday Traditions?

Family Feast

The Greeks do not hold back on the amount of permitted food they eat at the beginning of Lent! It’s usually a family day with a table full of elaborate dishes.

Consumption of shellfish is common, as is bean fare and the semolina-based version of halva, along with all sorts of other delicious dishes.

Lagana Bread

This is an unleavened bread and one of the most traditional foods to have. In Athens, Pnyka bakery is renowned for its version of this flatbread only made for Clean Monday. The shop opens overnight from Sunday to meet demand.

Modern versions of this bread are often leavened now, and it’s common to see it topped with sesame seeds. This special bread is usually found on the typical Clean Monday menu served with taramasalata (fish roe with olive oil and lemon juice).

Have a go at making Lagana Bread yourself!

Church Service

As I mentioned above, Clean Monday is said to start the preceding Sunday night. It kicks off with a special service at church on Sunday evening. Orthodox Christians believe they leave with a clean conscience, and the start of Lent is the beginning of cleansing their body, too.

Kite Flying on Clean Monday

Another main activity for families on this special day is flying kites. Usually people buy plastic ones from the shops, but some make their own kite from wood.

Kites in the supermarket, along with carnival decorations

I’ve heard a few different explanations and interpretations of why the Greeks fly kites. Some think it’s taking them closer to God. Others say it’s symbolic of releasing sin from the body.

Whatever people believe, it’s usually a fun thing to do. If you’re out and about on the islands doing some kind of outdoor excursions, then you may well see this going on.

In Athens, Filopappou Hill is the place to see the kites.

Other Important Days in the Greek Calander

Now that you know all about Clean Monday and its traditional customs, other Greek holiday dates you might like to read about are the August The Fifteenth national holiday, Oxi day and the various Name Days that are celebrated throughout the year.

Suzie Young

Suzie writes informative posts for solo, nervous or first-time travellers to Greece, Turkey and other countries on her 50-before-50 bucket list. She became a Greek resident in 2020 and intends to visit every inhabited island (13 down!).

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