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Greeks celebrate "Clean Monday" amidst recession and cold snap

ATHENS, Feb. 28 — The Greeks celebrated on Monday the end of the carnival season and the start of Lent to Christian Easter on reduced expenses and skepticism due to the severe economic crisis, while a cold snap was gripping most parts of the country restricting travel.

"Clean Monday" as it is named, is a public holiday in Greece and starts each year exactly 40 days before the Orthodox Christian Easter.

Traditionally, it is considered as the first day of a 40-day fasting for the faithful who leave behind sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods, such as meat, in order to "clean body and soul" for Easter.

Usually, people enjoy traditional dishes, like fish, seafood, bean soup and special bread called "lagana," and entertain themselves by dancing and flying kites outdoors.

The atmosphere this year was not very jubilant though, since many recession-hit Greeks were forced to cut on spending on delicacies, expressing anxiety for the future.

Debt-laden Greece relies on multi-billion euro rescue loans from EU and International Monetary Fund since May 2010 to avoid default.

Currently, Athens is under heavy pressure by creditors to ratify a string of new austerity and reform bills this week to secure a second vital aid package to escape bankruptcy by late March.

According to initial estimates, a 20 percent reduction in sales of food for "Clean Monday" celebrations was reported in bakeries and open markets compared to 2011.

Thousands of people lined up to get traditional meals for free in events organized by municipalities in central Athens opposite to the Acropolis hill, and nationwide, braving the cold snap.

Besides financial hardship, heavy rainfall, strong winds and snowfall that hit many areas across Greece ruined plans for excursions and many festivities.

In the city of Patras, for example, where one of Europe's most colorful carnivals takes place every year, officials cancelled "Clean Monday" happenings due to bad weather and distributed the traditional dishes to people and institutions in need. (PNA/Xinhua)

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