In many religions there are times designated for feast and fasting. It’s a very sound practise as on a practical level the fasting prepares for the extra intake of food that comes with the celebratory feast. In Cyprus where Greek Orthodoxy is prevalent many of the foods connected with certain times of year and rituals revolving around food are related to the religious calendar. Lent is one such event, in Cyprus the day known as Green Monday or Clean Monday is a public holiday at beginning of the 7th week before Easter when the fasting period begins and all sinful behaviour as well as non fasting foods are relegated to the pantry until Easter arrives. This year it fell on March 3rd. Meat, eggs and dairy products are a no- go but bread is always there and a special bread called Lagana is made for Green Monday, eaten with fresh fruit and vegetables. Originally I suspect that this was unleavened but the recipes I have found do contain some yeast so it is semi – unleavened.
Picnics are made up and excursions taken to the countryside or the beach where the tradition of making and flying kites takes place. It has a rather playful, happy connotation for the start of what would appear to be a sombre, abstinent and sobering time.
As a run up to Lent comes a series of other events. There is ‘Grilling Thursday’ tsiknopempti , carnival time, and cheese Sunday.
I have just read a really interesting article Sweet AlmondTree blog which puts it all in context. Just before Lent is carnival time in Cyprus and this is connected as it was in times past a time of making merry before the time of abstinence. Then comes the day before Clean Monday when traditionally cheese is eaten as this is not allowed in times of fasting.
In the UK we celebrate the start of Lent with a blow out on pancakes of all descriptions, with the same purpose in mind. Traditionally seasoned with sugar and lemon juice, this simple food is eaten on the Shrove Tuesday the day before Ash Wednesday when the six week duration of Lent begins . Around this event all kinds of activity can take place including pancake tossing and pancake races when you may be expected to toss pancakes at the same time as running… no mean feat.
Of course many people choose to take a more liberal approach and give up one thing for Lent… say chocolate. I suppose the thought is there….recently I heard that instead of giving up something for themselves they would give to others, a good idea but surely one that should not be confined to Lent? Whatever your religious persuasion it cannot be denied that abstaining from something for any period will certainly help you appreciate it all the more when once more you allow yourself to partake. It is certainly a good discipline in my opinion. A little bit of abstinence is good for the soul.