Upcoming Monday, February 19th, is for most of us a day like so many, but for the Greeks it is an official holiday. Kathara Deftera, or ‘Clean Monday’, marks the beginning of the fasting period prior to Easter. During this period of forty days, which is also called Sarakosti, no products of red bleeding animals are eaten. After these forty days the ‘Great Week’ begins, the week before Easter. A week in which people are also fasting, even stricter than in the fasting period itself. Many young people who have not fasted during the Sarakosti do fast during this week. Counting in the Great Week, the fast lasts for a total of 48 days. The goal is to clean both body and mind.

Picnicking and kiting at Kathara Deftera

Kathara Deftera is full of years of traditions. The best known tradition is kite flying. If you’re visiting Greece on this day, you will see kites everywhere. Kiting symbolizes the liberation of sins and flying to heaven. It is a cozy business outside. The cities empty and in the villages and the countryside it is way busier than usual. The Greeks also flock to parks, mountains and hilly areas to have a picnic with family and friends.

What does fasting mean in Greece?

In contrast to Islamic fasting, the Greeks are allowed to eat during the day. The orthodox fast means that no products of red bleeding animals are eaten. So: no meat, fish or dairy. Shellfish and squid are allowed, as they do not have red blood. Legumes and vegetables are eaten abundantly, just like bread and pasta. Halvas is also very popular. Normally, this sweet is mainly eaten with coffee or tea, but due to its high nutritional value it is eaten much more often during the period of fasting. Halvas is made of sesame seeds, honey, vegetable oil and sugar.

Lagana bread

Traditionally, olives, halvas and tarama (roe salad) are often eaten at Kathara Deftera. But the lagana bread plays the main role at the table. This flat, wide bread is only eaten on this special day. The bread is made of water and flour, but without yeast. Like the koulouri, the traditional bread ring from Thessaloniki, it has a slightly sweet taste. The bakers in the city will be very busy this Monday: from early in the morning until late at night they are baking lagana. But you too can make the lagana at home. Here you will find the recipe of chef Akis Petretzikis, who himself was also born and raised in Thessaloniki! Good luck and enjoy your meal!