Today, the 25th of the month of Thargelion marks the day of the Plynteria festival. This minor festival was held solely in Athens and surrounding areas, and was in honor of Athena Polias, Protector of the city. It was considered an auspicious day by the ancient Hellenes, because on this day, they did not have the protection of Athena.

Plutarch, in his 'Life of Alkibiades' describes the festival beautifully:

"But while Alcibiades was thus prospering brilliantly, some were nevertheless disturbed at the particular season of his return. For he had put into harbour on the very day when the Plynteria  of the goddess Athene were being celebrated. The Praxiergidae celebrate these rites on the twenty-fifth day of Thargelion, in strict secrecy, removing the robes of the goddess and covering up her images. Wherefore the Athenians regard this day as the unluckiest of all days for business of any sort. The goddess, therefore, did not appear to welcome Alcibiades with kindly favour and good will, but rather to veil herself from him and repel him. However, all things fell out as he wished, and one hundred triremes were manned for service, with which he was minded to sail off again; but a great and laudable ambition took possession of him and detained him there until the Eleusinian mysteries." [34.1]

During the Plynteria, the wooden statue of Athena was disrobed of the Peplos that She received during the Panathenaia by Her priestesses, veiled, and then taken down to the sea for a wash. Veiling a Theos' image from head to toe was considered apophras, unlucky, as it removed Their presence. The women who removed the robe and jewelry from the ancient wooden image and then veiled Her, were part of an Athenian family traditionally entrusted with this task. They were called the Praxiergidai. The procession to the sea, several miles away, was a city-affair. As all other sanctuaries and temples in Athens remained closed on this day, it's likely many attended. In front of the procession was a single woman, carrying a basket of fig pastries (known as 'Hegeteria'), for the fig was believed to be the first cultivated food, and was--like the sea water--a purifier. Mounted young men, known as 'epheboi' escorted the statue deep into the water before coming back to shore. Thee, it was bathed by two girls, the bathers (loutrides). A single priestess was most likely in charge of washing the peplos of the Goddess. her title has not survived. In the evening, a torch-lid procession brought the Goddess back to Her temple and she was redressed by the Praxiergidai. The statue may have remained veiled for the remainder of the day.

There is another, smaller, festival connected to the Plynteria the Kallunteria, which was celebrated somewhere in the vicinity of the Plynthria. During this festival, the temple of Athena was swept out--the name of the festival means 'sweeping out' or 'to beautify by sweeping'--and cleaned thoroughly, so that the washed statue would have a clean home to return to. The lamp of Her eternal flame was also refilled and relit by the priestesses on this day. The lamp was a golden vessel, created in the late fifth century by Kallimachos, and was big enough to hold enough oil to burn day and night for the whole year. It's therefor logical to assume that the festival was held on a day close to the twenty-fifth, possibly the twenty-fourth. Ancient sources state that the festival must have taken place after the Bendideia. From Proklos' 'Timaeus of Plato':

"For they say, that the Bendideia were celebrated in the Piraeus on the twentieth day of [Thargelion], but that the festival sacred to Minerva followed these."

Mikalson, in his 'The sacred and civil calendar of the Athenian year', stresses that the 24th is merely a estimation, and we, in fact, do not know when the festival was held. He assumes it could even have taken place after the Plynteria, and places the Kallunteria between the 24th and the 28th of the month, with the exception of the 25th, as that was the date of the Plyneria. Personally, I think that if you have an entire temple to clean, it makes sense to stretch the event into two days, either consecutive or non-consecutive, but with our home shrines, the two festivals can easily be conflated into the 25th, or perhaps the 24th and the 25th to remain somewhat traditional--although I again stress that the date of the Kallunteria is unknown.

As modern practitioners, this day can be used for a spring cleaning of your altar and shrine to Athena. It can also serve as a day to clean all shrines. Covering all shrines is encouraged in reflection of the temples being closed on the 25th. If you have a statue of Athena, this is the time to wash it. Taking Her to the sea is best, but any source of running water will do, even the kitchen faucet. Clean Her peplos, if you have made one for Her, and restore Her to the shine around dusk. Sacrifice to Her, figs or fig cakes preferably. If you do not possess a statue of Athena, simply washing your temple space and offering to Her will suffice. Enjoy your Kallunteria and Plynteria!

 Image source: Athena