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Kathará Deftera "Clean Monday": The Start of the Orthodox Lenten Period

Kathara Deftera, or “Clean Monday” (translated from Greek) is a special day for Eastern Orthodox Christians, as it marks the beginning of the period of fasting that precedes Pascha (Easter) known as Great Lent.

The date of Kathara Deftera changes from year to year. This is because Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar (as opposed to the Gregorian calendar) to establish the date of Easter. Because the official day of Easter changes every year, it is often a different day than in Western traditions - see this article for more information. The day is celebrated throughout Greece and Cyprus as a public holiday and includes festivities such as picnics and gatherings where people come together and partake in lenten foods or "nistisima fagita" (νηστίσιμα φαγητά). However, Orthodox Christians throughout the world celebrate Clean Monday. The day is an opportunity to start the fasting period off with the right mindset and attitude.

Different ethnic groups consume different dishes on this day, but the general idea behind the social gathering is the same: coming together. Usually, after a church service, people gather to begin the lenten period in a “clean” manner. It is customary to try and start the period with a clean conscience, heart, and renewed spirit. Christians try to leave behind sinful attitudes and replace them with habits that display the self-control and discipline exhibited throughout Great Lent.

One of the most beloved traditions associated with Clean Monday in Greeceand Cyprus is the flying of kites. Kite flying on Clean Monday has both symbolic and practical significance. The act of flying kites on Clean Monday symbolizes the renewal of the spirit and the casting away of sins and worldly attachments. As the kites soar high into the sky, they represent the ascent of prayers and hopes towards heaven, as well as the liberation of the soul from earthly concerns. Clean Monday also often coincides with the arrival of spring in Greece, and kite flying is a joyful expression of the changing seasons. It is a time for families and communities to come together outdoors, enjoy nature, and celebrate the arrival of warmer weather and longer days. Kite flying on Clean Monday in Greece is a cherished tradition that embodies the themes of spiritual renewal, celebration of nature, and community fellowship. It is a time for reflection, joy, and connection with both the divine and the natural world.

Growing up in the United States, I never flew kites on this day but I always admired the Greek tradition. Instead, my church would host a picnic-style gathering in the church hall after the Monday church service and everyone would bring a different Lenten dish as part of a beautiful spread to be shared among the community. I always loved seeing the mix of foods people came up with as some people would prepare traditional foods like lagana and skordalia while others brought more modern vegan dishes.

I hope this has been informative and interesting for you to read. I'm curious: does your family/community have any special traditions or customs for Kathara Deftera?


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