If you happen to be in Greece circa now, you probably might wondering what is all this "Ash"or "Clean" Monday all about? If you are not in Greece but thinking about coming make a note on your calendar after you read this to come during this extraordinary celebration.
First things first.
What's a Clean Monday anyway?
Greeks celebrate the so called Clean Monday or Koulouma, which is a movable feast and a bank holiday, the Monday that is 48 days before Easter. It has the same meaning as Ash Wednesday for Catholics. It marks the Great Lent, the fasting period before Easter and it is celebrated around the country in many different ways. Celebrations are blended with Carnival traditions as the Sunday before is known as Carnival Sunday. Some are very traditional and stem out of every region's customs and others like kite flying are more modern, yet they have turned into every-year customs over the time. After all, Clean Monday also unofficially marks the beginning of Spring, so what better than some kite flying and a picnic.
Every Clean Monday morning, you'll see some serious queues outsideall bakeries. Tradition has it that lagana bread, a special unleavened flatbread eaten only on this day is an absolute must. It's worth the waiting, especially if it's hot. Don't order too many, they are very big and that definitely makes eating lagana fun!
image courtesy of: www.akispetretzikis.com
Other traditional dishes of the day include taramosalata (an insanely delicious fish roe spread), dolmadakia (vine leaves stuffed with rice), seafood and shellfish. To put it that way, everything that doesn't involve meat. The roots of the word carnival after all come from the Latin expression carne levare, which means "farewell to meat". The king of Clean Monday is arguably, halva, this amazing, crumbly confectionery made out of tahini.
photo courtesy of: www.matheimatamageirikis.gr
Clean Monday traditions don't stop only at the food. Take it from Thebes, an ancient city just an hour's drive away from Athens where the Vlach Wedding revival custom takes place every year. It's a satyr representation of a traditional matchmaking wedding, with a groom and a bride (played by a man), best men and everything and with people accompanying the couple to the city's central square for the wedding. Scoptic dialogues are involved and they are hilarious. Costumes worn, date way back in time and the custom is said to have its roots at the times of Dionysus, god of joy, wine and fertility who was born in Thebes. That's the reason why wine consumption at this wedding sky rockets!
In Naoussa, the Genitsaroi or Boules march around town with their amazing costumes dancing to the traditional music. It is also a weeding revival custom. The original costumes are rare and very expensive with many silver items. The most notable piece of clothing is by all means the mask, either feminine or manly, with the very small eyes and mouth.
On Clean Monday the traditional Agas celebration takes place in Mesta village in Chios Island! This custom is also deep rooted, from the Ottoman times when the Agas (the Ottoman tax collector) would come into the village to collect mastic as tax payment. A court of justice makes crazy accusations of “crimes” supposedly committed by the villagers and they are taken into trial.
Corfu begs to differ. The island oozes Venetian sartorial elegance as locals dress up in their fascinating Venetian costumes, wear their masks and wigs and march around the Old Town. Simply magical!
photo courtesy of: www.protothema.gr
A court is assembled in Karpathos island too, where the role of judge is bestowed upon the most venerable of the island's residents. Obscene gestures occur between villagers and upon the police's intervention they are led to a very amusing trial!
In Galaxidi people throw colored flour to one another and dance around a fire. Not a very Clean Monday right? But who cares when it's that fun!
In Nedousa, in southern Peloponnese, a custom takes place every year, so old that can be found in the descriptions of the poet Hesiod, around 650 B.C. It's a kind of theater with a series of acts performed by a group of people dressed up as goats - yes, goats! - with bells around their waists to ward off evil spirits and secure good luck and prosperity for the village.
As folklore as they may sound, those spectacles are amazing experiences and the list of various Greek customs long enough to make a book! Clean Monday is always leisurely spent by Greeks as it is the perfect opportunity to escape from their everyday life and routine. Why not mingle, eat, drink and be merry with them?
And that's all folks!