Greek Orthodox Lent starts with “Kathará Deftéra,” “Clean Monday.” This coincides with the date of the Central European Carnival Monday, or Rose Monday. So the start of Lent in the Eastern Church falls two days earlier than in the Western Church where the time of abstinence does not start until Ash Wednesday.
“Clean Monday” is a public holiday which is normally celebrated among family. There is a lot of serious eating, as is often the case on such occasions, but with vegan dishes and shellfish in conformity with Lent. Anyone who maintains the tradition will fly a kite on Kathará Deftéra.
The oft-quoted 40-day Lent fasting – looking at the calendar days – does not really last 40 days either in the Western or Eastern Church.
The Roman Catholic Church does still have a specific calculation process: Sundays by definition do not count as fasting days. So there are six weeks of fasting of six days each, plus four more fasting days at the end of Lent until you finally get to Holy Saturday. So the procedure covers a period of 46 days.
With its two additional days of fasting, the Greek Orthodox Church arrives at a period of 48 calendar days in total. Nevertheless, they talk here too of 40 days of fasting (also: the Big Fast), which is based on the Bible. Lent is known as “Sarakostí” in Greece. The origin of the word includes the word for forty, “saránta.”
During Lent you should abstain from consuming meat, fish, eggs and dairy produce. Only shellfish are allowed (so no fish), which is justified by the “fact” that they “have no blood.” Although that may only be partially correct, it makes the diet during Lent considerably easier if you want to strictly observe the rules.
Actual behaviour should be critically compared with the religious law on fasting. Anyone who accepts Lent with its true, spiritual meaning as a time of penance and contemplation is obviously closest to the fundamental idea of abstention and restraint. Anyone who does not fast at all but who is actually a decent person will of course not go straight to Hell. However, using Lent as an opportunity for excessive binges with vast amounts of expensive shellfish is clearly missing the point.