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Why Greeks Fly Kites on Clean Monday

Clean monday kite
Tradition dictates that Athenians go to Filopapou Hill to fly kites on Clean Monday. Credit:Huhu Uet/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Kathara Deftera, or “Clean Monday”—the beginning of Lent among Orthodox Christians—is the day Greeks fly kites (which are symbolic of the Resurrection) and go on picnics outdoors. The holiday is also the unofficial start of spring for Greeks.

Young people and adults organize excursions to open areas all across the country so as to fill the skies with their kites.

Tradition dictates that Athenians go to Filopappou Hill to fly kites on Clean Monday. The hill near the Acropolis is usually shoulder-to-shoulder with kids and their families mostly attempting to fly a kite despite the crowds. The atmosphere is always fun and festive despite the sobriety of Lent.

How to make a kite for Clean Monday

Many traditional workshops have devoted themselves to the making of Clean Monday kites for over seventy years now. Although traditional wooden kites have sometimes been replaced by plastic ones, the kite-making handcraft still has its own secrets.

A light wooden frame on a paper body, cords on the balances and a single cord on the tail make the perfect traditional kite, ready to carry children and grown-ups off their feet if the wind is strong enough.

Making a traditional homemade kite is not easy. It requires patience and time to make it right. But what a great feeling it is to get outside after a long winter and fly a kit on Clean Monday! Here is how you do it:

According to some scholars, the custom of kite flying arrived in Greece from the East. Others claim that its origin in the Mediterranean is traced back to the experiments of ancient Greek mathematician Archytas (428-347 BC).

Kathara Deftera and Lent

Kathara Deftera is considered one of the most important annual feasts in Greece, commencing the 40-day period of Great Lent, or “Sarakosti,” for the Greek Orthodox Church.

The feast begins on the first day of the 7th week before the Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday.
Liturgically, however, Clean Monday—and thus Lent itself—begins on the preceding Sunday night at a special service in which all present bow down before one another and ask for forgiveness.

In this way, the faithful begin the Great Lent with a clean conscience, forgiveness, and renewed Christian love. The day of Clean Monday is sometimes called “Ash Monday” by analogy to Ash Wednesday, the day on which Lent begins in Western Christianity.

Clean Monday also puts an end to the riotous Carnival celebrations that preceded it, inviting all Orthodox Christians to leave behind the sinful attitudes associated with Carnival festivities—and non-fasting foods, which were largely consumed during the three weeks of the Carnival.

As a result, the feast, which is a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus, is celebrated with outdoor excursions, the consumption of shellfish and other fasting foods, as well as the widespread custom of building and flying kites.

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