Kathara Deftera: A Taste of Greek Tradition, on the way to Easter

Kathara Deftera Kite

A complete guide on the Greek Monday of Lent, from the team at Greeklist.

1.  What is Kathara Deftera?

“Kathara Deftera” is the Greek Monday of Lent which translates in English as “Clean Monday” It’s an official public holiday in Greece that marks the official commencement of the Lenten period in Greece. Celebrated 48 days before Easter, this day transcends religious observance, transforming into a vibrant tapestry of cultural traditions and delectable flavours. For Greek Orthodox Christians, Kathara Deftera holds deep religious significance, marked by prayer and fasting. Yet, it extends beyond these solemn practices, embracing festivities and customs passed down through generations. It is joyful day where families and friends gather to celebrate.

2  The religious aspect of Kathara Deftera

In the heart of Kathara Defteras’ vibrant festivities lies a deep wellspring of faith. For Greek Orthodox Christians, this day marks the momentous start of the Great Lent, a 48-day pilgrimage leading up to the glorious celebration of Easter. It’s a period of profound spiritual reflection, an introspective journey guided by prayer, fasting, and self-denial.

Church services on Kathara Deftera resonate with the solemn beauty of hymns and prayers, setting the tone for the introspection to come. Believers embark on a spiritual cleanse, symbolised by abstaining from meat, dairy products, and other indulgences. This outward act of restraint serves as a mirror to the inner workings of the soul, encouraging them to confront negative thoughts and desires, paving the way for spiritual growth.

Just as Jesus Christ spent 40 days and nights fasting in the wilderness, emerging renewed and triumphant, Lent offers an opportunity for transformation. Fasting becomes a tool for sharpening self-awareness, allowing one to shed distractions and reconnect with their core values.

An Orthdox icon of Jesus in the desert

3. Traditions and customs of Kathara Deftera

Kathara Deftera is synonymous with outdoor activities and picnics. Families and friends gather in parks, open spaces, or the countryside to enjoy nature, share a festive meal, and engage in recreational activities.

Kathara Deftera

One of the most iconic customs is Kite Flying, where  people of all ages fly colourful kites, symbolising the soul ascending toward the Sky and God. Colourful kites fill the sky, creating a festive and joyous atmosphere as people come together to participate in this playful and symbolic activity.In many places in Greece, local festivities and customs take place that date back centuries, such as “alevromoutzouroma” in Galaxidi.

Kite in Filopappou
Kites in Filopappou Hill, Athens

The day ends with the Forgiveness Vespers, a church service during the afternoon that involves a ceremonial exchange of forgiveness among congregants, fostering a sense of reconciliation and humility as Orthodox Christians embark on the Great Lent season. This ritual underscores the importance of forgiveness and mutual understanding within the spiritual journey of repentance.

Forgiveness Vespers
Forgiveness Vespers

4. The best dishes of Kathara Deftera table

On the cusp of the introspective Lenten season, the Greek table undergoes a fascinating metamorphosis for Kathara Deftera. While traditionally associated with indulgence, this day ushers in a period of abstinence from meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and even olive oil. Yet, rather than marking a culinary void, this shift opens the door to a vibrant and meticulously crafted array of dishes.

Here are some of the most popular dishes you’ll find on a Kathara Deftera table:

  • Lagana: This unleavened flatbread is the star of the show on Clean Monday. Made with flour, water, olive oil, and sesame seeds, it’s traditionally baked the day before and enjoyed plain or dipped in olive oil, vinegar, or various spreads.

Lagana

  • Taramosalata: This creamy dip made from fish roe (usually carp or cod) is a staple on the Kathara Deftera table. It’s typically served with lagana bread and is known for its rich flavour and vibrant pink colour.

Taramosalata

  • Htapodi Xydato: Boiled octopus served cold in vinegar and lemon, is a popular seafood choice for Kathara Deftera. It’s often enjoyed as a shared appetizer or main course.

Htapodi Xydato

  • Fava:  A creamy and flavorful dip or spread. It’s made by boiling yellow split peas until soft and then mashing them into a smooth consistency. Seasonings like lemon juice, salt, pepper, and sometimes chopped onions or dill are added for extra flavour.

Fava

  • Fasolada: A white bean soup, which is a hearty and flavorful soup commonly served on Clean Monday and throughout Lent. It’s made with white beans, vegetables like onions, carrots, celery, and tomatoes, and seasoned with , herbs and spices.

Fasolada

  • Dolmadakia:Also known as stuffed grape leaves are a classic Kathara Deftera dish. These bite-sized delicacies feature tender vine leaves meticulously wrapped around a flavorful filling of rice, herbs, spices.

Dolmadakia

  • Toursi (Pickled Vegetables): A staple and beloved element of Greek cuisine. It encompasses a wide variety of vegetables and fruits preserved in brine or vinegar, adding a zesty and tangy flavour to dishes and acting as a refreshing palate cleanser.

Toursi

  • Βoiled Shrimps:  Showcasing the natural sweetness of the seafood, served with a splash of lemon and aromatic herbs, for a delightful and straightforward culinary experience.

Shrimps

  • Loupin Beans: Creamy white beans, bursting with earthy flavour, add a protein punch to your Kathada Deftera feast

Loupin Beans

  • Fresh Salads: Colourful salads with tomatoes, cucumbers,  lettuce, carrots and many more take centre stage, embodying a healthy and traditional aspect of the day’s vegetarian feasting

Greek Fresh Salad

  • Halva: This rich and decadent dessert is made with tahini (sesame paste), sugar, and flavorings like chocolate, vanilla, or nuts. It’s a sweet treat to end your Clean Monday feast.

Halva

If you are in London and you are willing to enjoy the dishes of Kathara Deftera, don’t miss to visit the following:

  • Fratelli Greci: A friendly, comfortable environment where customers buy, try and get to know quality delicatessen foods from Greece
  • Ellinikon Greek Bakery: Enjoy our traditional homemade desserts, fresh pastries, and of course the famous Lagana during Kathara Deftera.
  • Kima Restaurant: They bring the Mediterranean culture of the Greek peninsula to London’s dining scene. On Kathara Deftera you can experience the authentic dishes of this special day.
  • Byzantium Restaurant: Authentic recipes, delicious dishes, unique member-driven events, high-quality ingredients and of course the traditional dishes of Kathara Deftera

5. When is the Kathara Deftera in Greece?

Kathara Deftera in Greece is right after the end of Carnival. It’s a movable feast, meaning its date changes every year and falls on the first Monday of the seventh week before Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday. Therefore, the exact date for Kathara Deftera can vary between late February and early March.

For the next 3 years, Kathara Deftera will be as following:

  • In 2024: March 18th.
  • In 2025:  March 3rd.
  • In 2026:  February 23rd.

6. Ideal places to visit in Greece for Kathara Deftera

Greece comes alive with vibrant celebrations during Kathara Deftera offering a unique experience across the country. From the enchanting islands to historic mainland towns, the entire nation embraces the festive spirit with communal picnics, traditional activities, and a shared sense of joy, making any corner of Greece an ideal destination to partake in the lively celebrations.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Athens: The capital of Greece is a great place to experience Kathara Deftera traditions. You can watch the kite-flying competition on Filopappou Hill, or enjoy a traditional Clean Monday meal in one of the many restaurants in the city.

Athens Monastiraki

  • Thessaloniki: The second-largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki also has a vibrant Clean Monday celebration. You can visit the kite-flying festival at Nea Paralia beach, or enjoy a traditional meal in one of the many tavernas in the city centre.

Thessaloniki

  • Meteora: Home to the stunning monasteries perched on top of towering rocks. Immerse yourself in the tranquil atmosphere, centuries of prayer echoing through the stone walls, and find solace in the panoramic views that stretch towards the heavens.

Meteora

  • Galaxidi: Nestled on the western edge of the Gulf of Itea, it is one of the most beautiful seaside villages in Central Greece. It is an ideal destination for Clean Monday, as it is here that the custom of the “alevromoutzouroma” (flour fight) takes place

Galaxidi

  • Nafplio: Nafplio is one of the beautiful areas of the Peloponnese. It is known for its Bourtzi fortress, the Palamidi fortress with its 999 steps, the Acronauplia fortress, its crystal-clear waters and its delicious food. On Clean Monday, Nafplio welcomes you with wine, Lenten delicacies and traditional music.

Nafplio

  • Ioannina: Ioannina: A charming lakeside city in Epirus, blending history, culture, and natural beauty with a touch of Byzantine legacy. Kite over the glistening lake, explore historical sites, and savor festive traditions in this unique Greek city.

Ioannina

  • Hydra: This car-free island offers a tranquil escape for Clean Monday. Hike to the Prophet Elias Monastery for panoramic views and kite flying, or explore the charming harbor town and enjoy delicious seafood meals.

Hydra Island

  • Kastoria:  A picturesque town in northern Greece, is renowned for its stunning lakeside. Kathara Deftera is celebrated with vibrant outdoor festivities, where locals engage in communal picnics by the lake.

Kastoria

  • Tinos: Known for its pilgrimage church of Panagia Evangelistria, Tinos offers a unique blend of religious traditions and festive atmosphere. Participate in the procession to the church, witness the traditional kite flying, and enjoy delicious local specialties.

Tinos

  • Santorini: A picturesque volcanic island in the Aegean Sea, famous for its dramatic cliffs, whitewashed houses clinging to the caldera, and stunning sunsets.mbrace the island’s cleansing tradition participating in local feasts and kite flying by the beach.

Santorini

7. Experiencing Kathara Deftera in Greece

Kathara Deftera in Greece is a journey through tradition, unity, and festivity. Whether on the sun-kissed islands or within the historic mainland towns, the nation collectively embraces this day with a joyful spirit, marked by outdoor gatherings, unique local customs, and the shared delight of partaking in the transition from Carnival to Lent.

Kids Kathara Deftera

Don’t miss our travel guides to Athens, Thessaloniki, Crete, Santorini, Nafpaktos, Ioannina and Mykonos!

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