National Hellenic Museum – Clean Monday traditions
February 27th is Clean Monday, the first day of the Eastern Orthodox Lent. On this day, Orthodox Christians, including Greeks, mark the beginning of the forty-day period of fasting and preparation before Easter. The traditional foods of Clean Monday, known as the Koulouma, are lagana (a flat bread), halvas (a semolina-based dessert eaten throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East), and taramas (a Greek fish roe dip). Since meat and dairy products are forbidden during the Lenten fast, it is not uncommon for other seafoods like squid, shrimp, and lobster to find their way onto the Clean Monday table.
Another tradition associated with Clean Monday, particularly in Greece, is going out to fly kites. It is common to declare the flying of kites on Clean Monday as an image of sin leaving the body or of the soul ascending toward God. However, this is likely a case of an explanation emerging after a custom had already taken hold. The reality is that Lent heralds the beginning of spring (the English word “Lent” comes from the Old English word for “spring” læncte). And kite flying is a very nice springtime activity. This does not, of course, detract from the meaning that some have retroactively found in the tradition. Both can be true.
Tradition is a complex thing, after all. At the National Hellenic Museum, we grapple with the history and meaning of traditions every day as we ask where our traditions come from, what they have meant in the past, and what they mean today.
We would love to see you at the museum sometime soon to ask these questions with us. We are open from 10:00 am-4:00 pm Thursday through Sunday. We also are open for private tours, upon arrangement, any day of the week. If you would like to schedule your own tour, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We cannot wait to welcome you!