Last Monday, Orthodox Christians across the Middle East kicked off the 40-day Lenten season with a wonderful food-based tradition called Green Monday, when folks tuck into a delicious (and usually outdoor) luncheon of greens, olives, potatoes and seafood.
Technically, Lent began the previous Sunday, but Monday’s popular picnicking marks the run-up to Easter for the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches.
This is a holy-day holiday everyone can sign up to!
As a Catholic-raised American living in the Middle East I’m always doing a calendar doubletake – orthodox versions of our western religions adopt different holiday start dates. Lent here started Monday – whereas back home it begins two days later, on Ash Wednesday.
I know this not because I’m observant, but because I’ve been Twitter-tracking my firstborn as he eats his way through Mardi Gras – the annual bacchanalian that culminates today, Fat Tuesday, the last day of over-consumption before Lent’s ritual fasting begins. (Nick’s not religious either – unless you consider his devotion to po’boys, gumbo and beignets.)
Meat, eggs and dairy products are off-limits to Orthodox Christians throughout Lent, and fish is only eaten on major feast days – far more restrictive than fasting in the West. I’ve stumbled on this in my Amman workplace, cluelessly bringing in cookies and cakes which only the Muslims could tuck into.
Where Christian orthodoxy is in the majority, Green Monday goes large. It’s a public holiday in Cyprus; thousands flock to open areas, parks and beaches for picnics.
The day is also called Clean Monday, your last chance to indulge in dicey behaviors and non-fasting foods. The idea is to start Lent with a clean slate (and plate!). It’s also customary to go to Confession this week, and to thoroughly scrub the house.
The theme of Clean Monday is explained in the Old Testament (Isaiah 1:16-18) which says:
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”
The happy vibe of Clean Monday may seem at odds with Lenten repentance and self-denial, a last flash before austerity sets in. But the tenets of the day rise above religiosity; there’s a positive take-away in Green Monday for everyone that can be easily implemented year-round – no matter whom you pray to.
Image of Easter eggs from Shutterstock