Clean Monday! Meaning and customs in Greece

Have you ever wondered what the word "Koulouma" means and what its origin is? In this article we analyze the origin and meaning of the word and present you some interesting customs of the first day of Lent from all over Greece.

The truth is that there are various opinions about Koulouma. Among the first to prevail was the one that claimed that the word Koulouma came from the Latin “CULUMUS”, which is not, however, a completely secure conclusion, since such a word is not found in Latin.

According to the aforementioned version, Koulouma is an anagram of the Latin “CUMULUS” which means “pile, abundance”, but also “ending”.

Thus, it was speculated that cumulus became “koumula” and then “kouluma”, in the sense that on this day we consume an abundance of fasting foods, while at the same time marking the end of Halloween.

Koulouma Kathara Deutera, Greek Orthodox Traditions

There is, however, a second, more likely version, according to which the word “kouluma” came from the Latin word “COLUMNA”, which means “column”.

Although there is no evidence of the ancient origins of the celebration, tradition says that before the First World War, the Athenians celebrated Clean Monday on the slopes of the hill of Philopappos, where they ate and drank sitting on the rocks until sunset.

Right afterwards, information comes that the Roumeliotes milkmen, who lived in Athens, set up a “Chamiko” dance on the pillars of Olympian Zeus, in the “koulones”, as they said with their particular idiom.

Koulouma Kathara Deutera, Greek Orthodox Traditions

The caustic satire is one of the characteristics of Clean Monday in many of its celebrations around the country:

Aleuropolemos in Galaxidi, is a custom that has been preserved since 1801. In those years, even though Galaxidi was under Turkish occupation, all the residents waited for Carnival to have fun and dance in circles. One circle for the women, one for the men. They wore masks or simply painted their faces with charcoal. Then flour, lulac, shoe polish and ochre were added.

The Vlach Wedding in Thebes, is a custom that reaches our days from about 1830, after the liberation of the mountainous areas. The Vlachs, i.e. the shepherds from Macedonia, Epirus, Thessaly and Roumeli, then abandoned their barren land and found fertile soil further south. The spectacle is superb, the wedding procession is colourful, the accompanying music (pipes, dulcimer, etc.) is extremely lively.

Koutroulis’ Wedding in Methoni, Messinia, was a Carnival wedding, which existed already in the 14th century. Nowadays, the honeymoon couple is two men, who, together with their relatives, go to the square, where the wedding takes place with a priest and a best man. The dowry is read and a great feast follows.

In Messini, Messinia, there is a re-enactment of the execution of an old woman, the old woman Sykos, who, according to tradition, was hanged at the city’s Kremala site, on the orders of Ibrahim Pasha, because she had the courage, explaining a dream she had had, to tell him that his campaign and himself would be brought to a miserable end by the reaction and vigour of the rebellious Greeks. After the re-enactment, any visitor can be “hung” by the false demons of the gallows. In the afternoon of Holy Monday there is a parade with cheerleaders, floats, costumed children and adults and dance groups.

Koulouma, Kathara Deytera!

Koulouma Kathara Deutera, Greek Orthodox Traditions

Burani in Tyrnavos. Burani is a soup without oil, around the preparation of which the whole game is staged with phallic symbols and bold teasing by the buranids.

In Karpathos, the People’s Court of Unethical Acts operates. Some people make ugly gestures to others and are arrested by the Jafides ( police officers) to be taken to the Court, which is made up of the venerable people of the island. The impromptu jokes and laughter are followed by hilarious revelry.

In the communities of Potamia, Kaloxido and Livadia of Naxos, the inhabitants dress up as Cordellati or Leventes. Cordellati are skirt-wearers and their second name Leventes is attributed to pirates. They are closely followed by the bandits, the Sparatoros, who snatch the girls to force them into the dance and the feast, which lasts until the morning.

In the villages of Merona and Melidonia of Rethymnon, customs such as bride stealing, Kantis and smudging are revived, which, combined with good wine and the sounds of the lyre, constitute a unique experience.

In Skyros, almost all residents in traditional costumes descend to the island’s square, where they dance and sing local songs.

A great idea is a trip to one of the Clean Monday destinations and experiencing the customs by region!

Photos Studio27 by Andreas Politis

Koulouma Kathara Deutera, Greek Orthodox Traditions

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