I have to admit that Clean Monday (or, as I always call it – Green Monday) is one of my favourite national holidays here in Cyprus.
The Start of Lent
Clean Monday (Καθαρά Δευτέρα in Greek) marks the start of Lent (the 40-day fasting period before Easter) and an end to the preceding Carnival days that have involved excessive feasting and parties.
According to Greek Orthodox principles, these 40 days of fasting are meant to purify the body and spirit and to rededicate oneself to a more righteous way of living.
Not everyone fasts nowadays other than the most devout (or health-conscious) among us, but almost everyone seems to stick to the fasting rules for at least a Clean Monday outing, if not for the entire day.
Celebrating a Fresh Start
To celebrate the start of Lent, families across the Island traditionally take to the beach or fields for al-fresco picnics of greens and vegetables, shellfish, halva, and a loaf of unleavened bread called “lagana” (λαγάνα). If you haven’t tried lagana, do. It’s amazing – like sesame-covered focaccia.
Clean Monday is a great day for vegans and vegetarians. Only fasting or “nistisima” (νηστίσιμα) food is allowed, so eating red meat, meat by-products, boned fish, eggs, and dairy is forbidden. Even the use of olive oil and consumption of wine is restricted to a minimum.
What’s all this got to do with flying a kite?
On Clean Monday, it is the widespread custom to fly kites. Why kites you may ask? I had the same question, and after some searching discovered that, apparently, flying kites is symbolic of the resurrection in the Orthodox faith.
Other sources claim that it represents the human psyche trying to reach God (as part of the spiritual cleansing of souls before Easter).
Maybe it’s simply because kite-flying goes particularly well with picnics and windy Spring days. Either way, it’s fun!
A day to look forward to
Clean Monday is a special day in my family’s calendar. Even if there are other days that we will fly kites, have picnics and go outdoors, on Clean Monday we know that we are guaranteed to be heading out to the fields to find wildflowers to identify and photograph. We will definitely take a hike and stop for a picnic (a fasting one, for just that day) and we will definitely fly (or at least try to fly!) a kite!
I am not Greek Orthodox, nor religious, but I do think there is something special about taking part in some of the rites and traditions of whatever part of the world you happen to find yourself in.
Rituals are important to mark those special breaks out of the routine and the ordinary. Family traditions (cultural, religious, or personal ones) are special times for families to come together and to connect over a shared experience.
Taking part in these rituals is the stuff that treasured memories are made of. Traditions are one of the ways through which we can create magic.
40 days until Easter
Easter here, even more so than Christmas, brings a wonderful opportunity for experiencing (or simply observing) those traditions that can be hard to separate the religious aspects from the pagan, such as the wearing of Marti bracelets throughout March, or Tsiknopempti (Burnt Thursday – the start of the excessive feasting period of Carnival that involves a lot of BBQs) that just passed last week.
My kids absolutely adore Mass on the eve before Easter – standing in the open courtyard of the church and everyone sharing the ‘light’ from candle to candle until the glow spreads across the crowd. I think they even love Easter more than Christmas, because of the rituals surrounding it.
Maybe it’s also the chocolate they get, but I like to think that it is the clean air, sunshine, green, and those very special family memories we make year after year, trying to fly a kite, lying in fields of wildflowers, picking fresh almonds from the trees and dipping them in salt and forgetting about anything else for a while other than the large, blue open skies above us, the start of Spring and the year ahead of us.
So, however you spend your Clean Monday, I hope it is fun, that it involves wide open spaces or at least the outdoors, and takes you on a journey to discover one of the many beautiful natural spots that Cyprus has to offer.
And, for your sake, I do hope that it also involves flying a kite.