FESTIVALS - PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

  

Folklore as we know it today changes from one period in time to another often dependent on historical events, some ruling invaders or 'landlords' often left more of a mark than others. Because of the long occupation of the Venetians and Turks these more than most influenced the peoples traditions more than any other, with perhaps a little addition here and there of the British rule.

   

Holidays and festivals, the daily activities and the rich artistic traditions are what bonds the modern Cretan with the past and its heritage. Most of the big Cretan festivals have a religious basis, as does the rest of Greece, they are observed in accordance with the Orthodox calendar, this then means that for example Easter, can fall as much as three weeks either side of the Western traditional dates. On top of the main religious festivals, there are lots of local festivals, or 'paniyiria', celebrating the patron saint of each village church. Some 330 plus saint's days! For the most part I have only put in the main festival days for Hania area. Additionally, various festivals are organized by all of the local municipalities, which host cultural, theatrical and musical events in various locations that are decided and altered every year throughout the summer months.

   

CHRISTMAS

  

After Easter, Christmas 'Christouyenna' is the second most important religious holiday in the whole of Greece. This is the time of year which is now becoming as popular with the Greeks as with Europeans alike. Children and local groups and bands sing and play carols. Decorations illuminate not only the houses but also the towns and villages each with their own nativity scene and Christmas tree. In Crete in the past it was custom to decorate instead of the Christmas tree a boat, the reason may be that 'Saint Nikolas' (whose name day is the 6th December) is the Saint of the fishermen and sailors. Even the tradition decorating of a Christmas tree may come from Greece as the use of decorated greenery and branches around New Year is recorded as far back as in Greek antiquity. The faithful will fast 40 days before Christmas not eating any animal or its related products, i.e. meat, dairy or eggs. Christmas eve children go from house to house singing carols  'Kalanda', while accompanied by the sounds of the triangle, guitars, accordions, lyres or harmonicas. Afterwards the children are given sweets or coins by the house owner. Houses would be cleaned with extra care and housewives prepare 'Melomakarona' sweet honey covered biscuits, which will be eaten on Christmas Day when the fasting ends. 'Christmas bread'  is baked, decorated with almonds and walnuts in the sign of the cross. This special bread is now baked and sold commercially or can be bought from the local baker.  

The 'Christopsomo', Christ's bread, was traditionally, years ago, held over the embers of the fire by the head of the family who would then trickle olive oil over the bread saying 'Christ is born the light grows stronger'. Each member of the family would be given a piece and in turn would distribute what was left to the family's animals, as a memento and contribution for the rest the donkey once provided for Mary on her journey to Bethlehem and the warmth the sheep, goats, cows and other animals gave to Christ at his birth in and around the stable. In the Greek Orthodox tradition the 'dodekaimeron', the twelve days of Christmas, is full of religious and cultural significance. Christmas day is celebrated as a separate festival, with the traditional Christmas dinner of roast lamb, pork or turkey, some will have fricassee - lamb or pork cooked with egg and lemon sauce. It is also the Name Day of Christos, Christina and Chrysoula, many people are also busy attending or hosting 'Name Day' parties in the evening. then 26th December which is regarded as the 1st day of Christmas and the church honours the Mother of Jesus ('Synaxis' of the most Holy Theotokos), along with Jesus, referred to in the Greek religion as 'Emanuel'. Hence, the Name days of Manolis or Emanuel or Manos or Emanuela are all celebrated, and friends and relatives will stop by to wish them 'many happy returns' or 'Xronia polla'. 

Traditionally, the villagers would make use of the whole pig, 'Siglina' is the pork cut into small pieces, then cooked, covered with lard and stored in large pots. This method of cooking would preserve the meat for many months. Sausages, 'apakia' made with smoked chunks of pork, 'Pihti' is the pig's head boned and boiled, the stock is made into a delicious gelatin mold with pieces of the meat in it, 'Omathies' the pig's intestines which are stuffed with rice, raisins and bits of liver. 'Tsigarithes' is pieces of lard cooked with spices and eaten with leaven bread. Nothing of the animal was wasted, even the bladder, or 'balloon' as it's known, would be washed out and cleaned, then blown up and used as a ball - a precious gift for the children of that day. The 27th, the second day of Christmas, and the church celebrates Saint Steven, Name days of Stephanos and Stephania. On the 4th day, December 29th, the church has a service to remember the babies that were slaughtered by King Herod in his attempt to kill the baby Jesus

  

NEW YEAR

  

On New Year's Eve, the 6th day of Christmas, in the major towns on the island, the youngsters bid farewell to the old year by playing practical jokes on each other some mostly spraying each other with perfume, whilst in some areas it is flour, declaring a bloodless war on each other, using plastic clubs, giant plastic hammers, foam spray and whistles as 'weapons'. Local bands play and choirs continue to sing traditional songs New Year 'Protochronia'  the day of St. Basil 'Ayios Vasilios' who brings the gifts for the children. It is the custom for money 'Kali Xera' to be given to children visiting on New Year's Day.  Many years ago, the money was the only gift the children would receive on New Year's Day, in many cases, the gift was just sweets or pastries, money was scarce and other than hand made toys there would be nothing else to give. One old custom that dates back to antiquity and is still upheld today in some areas, is that everyone takes a stroll out into the countryside on 31st December to dig up a 'Protochroniatiki kremmyda' referred to as the 'St Basil's (Father Christmas) plant' this is commonly known as the sea squill, a bulbous plant that looks similar to a large onion with large, green leaves. This plant is hung over the front door of the house to bring good luck, health and protection to the home and its occupants during the forthcoming New Year. 
 

Often seen wrapped in foil to ward off bad spirits, the sea squill has numerous layers and continues to bloom and produce new leaves even after being removed from the ground, it is therefore regarded as a symbol of a new beginning and growth. On New Year’s morning, it is taken off the door and used playfully to tap the heads of small children in an encouraging attempt to wake them up. The onion is then left for a few weeks in the hope of bringing the family health and a full life. 

 

At most tables an extra place is set for Ayios Vassilis, and afterwards, as in most parts of Europe, friends and families plays cards or other games such as rolling dice and gambling with small change in an attempt to win an amount of money, as this is the one night that the church permits gambling and games can last long into the following day.

 

At midnight you hear shouts of 'Xronia Polla' an all purpose word used to wish everyone well on many occasions. Another common custom, and a good excuse for the children not to get told off, is the breaking of a pomegranate by smashing it on to the ground in front of the main door of the house thus exposing the seeds. It was and still is believed that the amount of seeds visible on the ground are the amount of wishes that will be granted. 


'Kalo Podariko' - Getting off on the right foot - Early in the morning on New Year's Day a child normally does the 'podariko' or first-footing  using their right foot, sometimes a close friend or relative, whom is consider lucky will also be the first into the home, bringing the family  good luck 'kalo podariko' for the new year, other family or friends then follow suit. 

Then the merriment begins eating, drinking, dancing and a well earned visit to a bouzouki club. 1st January, the 7th day of Christmas, and the feast of Saint Basil with the church celebrating the circumcision of Jesus. New year cake 'Vassilopita' is sliced (an old Byzantine custom) the person who finds the coin that has been placed inside is traditionally the New Year's lucky person. In some households New Year's gifts are also exchanged.

  

EPIPHANY 6th JANUARY

 

On the The Eve of Epiphany, the 11th day of Christmas, known as 'the day of the Holy Water', is when the priest of the village goes into his parish consecrating and blessing all his parishioners and their homes. For this he uses an 'ayiastoura' a twig or piece of wood in the shape of a cone covered with rosemary and narcissi and often a carnation and a container of the blessed Holy Water. Superstition and not religion suggests that in this way it is hoped that the 'Kalikantzaroi' 'naughty elves' as they are known throughout Greece will then disappear. Depicted on ancient ceramics as small blackish and hairy creatures, with long arms and tail, who reside in the bowels of the earth. These mischievous lost little souls (also thought to be those of past infants who were not baptised) have been on earth for 12 days since Christmas Night. Because 'Kalikantzaroi' are small, some even very tiny, they can get into the homes through chimneys, keyholes, even from the little cracks on windows and doors of the houses and cause havoc, any food that has mysteriously disappeared over the festivities had, of course, been devoured by these devilish little mites who have to be banished back to the underworld. 

This is also the time when the main entrance to all of the churches is decorated with an arch combined with myrtle, a symbol of eternal love, peace and honour, and palm leaves, symbolising the victory of Christ over death. On this day, Epiphany or 'Theofania', the 12th day of Christmas, there is a national holiday in commemoration of the baptism of Christ in the Jordan river by John the Baptist. After the morning service long procession is formed and follows whatever road that leads to a body of water - the sea, a river or even a reservoir. At the head of the procession are the cherub icons, followed by the priests dressed in their  splendour, then the VIPs of the area, followed by all the local people. In the bigger cities, the procession becomes more elaborate with the addition of music and military contingents. 

At the end of the sanctification ceremony a priest throws a cross into the water on a piece of string, thus blessing the waters and commemorates Christ's baptism in the River Jordan. Then, those who dare - mostly the younger people of the village - jump in the usually icy and young men dive into the cold waters to retrieve it. The one who brings the cross up to the surface will enjoy good luck and health for the entire year. In the countryside, farmers bless the gardens, fields, orchards and the animals. The 13th day of Christmas, January 7th, is also celebrated as Saint John the Baptist's Day.

   

CARNIVAL TIME

  

The Carnival 'Apokries' - 'Karnavali' in Crete has a long and rich tradition and is a very special celebration for everyone much more so than Christmas. The Carnival started in Ancient times, believed to be in worship to 'Dionysos', the God of Wine and Feasts.  In the Orthodox tradition 'Apokries' literally means goodbye to meat 'Apoxh apo kreas' -  apo-kreas  the period for fasting  for Lent.  In Latin the roots of the word Carnival has the same meaning- 'carne' (meat) and  'vale'  (goodbye- farewell). 

Young and old enjoy these mardi-gras with songs, dance and of course costumes and masks, these of course used to resemble the Venetian styles, but of course into days modern world you have the usual monsters and presidents of the United States! People wander from taverna to cafe bars and the main streets at night playing practical jokes on those who prefer a more quieter time. On the last day of the Carnival, a parade takes place with a competition for the best costume and the most impressive float presentation. The dancers’ costumes are weird and wonderful. The men wear white ‘skirts’, white gloves and a tall paper headdress with pretty little bells on. There are silk ribbons on their skirts and they hang heavy gold jewellery around their necks, chains and brooches. Their 'female partners' are usually young boys or very short men wearing disguises. Everyone of course wears masks. Carnival dances have been passed down through the generations and include ancient quadrilles, polkas and old Greek folk dances. It is amusing to watch the 'babaoulia', which are comic turns performed by young people in costumes.

   

CLEAN MONDAY

  

The fortieth day before Easter, Clean Monday or Shrove Monday and lent begins, this day is spent in the country with an ample supply of food and wine necessary for the high spirits and included in these traditions is the flying of kites. In the past people used to make their own kites and it took a lot of skill to keep them in the air and  fly higher than the rest.

   

THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE VIRGIN MARY 25th MARCH

  

On all religious festivals and feast days, special bread is baked and richly decorated with flowers is brought to the church to be blessed. On 'the day of the Annunciation', the loaves are covered in fragrant spring flowers, mainly freesias, violets and stock. As they leave church, everyone is given a little bunch of flowers to take home with them.

   

EASTER

  

On Palm Sunday churches which have painstakingly been decorated by the ladies of the parish with sweet-smelling leaves and petals. Small crosses of palm are shaped and bound together by locals, and are a symbol of  triumph over death, with branches of olive the peace plant. On Good Friday it is moving to join in the procession which follows the 'Epitaphion' this represent where Christ laid before his entombment, it is carried in a candle lit procession around the villages. Saturday morning, bay leaves are scattered over the church floor, symbolizing the glory and victory of Christ over death. Saturday sees the climax in a mass to celebrate Christ's return. At midnight all lights in each and every crowded church are extinguished and the congregation plunged into darkness signifying Christ's passage through the underworld. Then you see a faint glimmer of light behind the altar screen prior to the priest appearing, holding aloft a lighted taper and chants 'Avto to fos' (this is the Light of the World). Then lighting the parishioners candles saying 'Devthe, levethe fos' (come take the light) the crowds greet his worlds with 'Xristos Anesti' (Christ is risen) each person in turn lighting their candles and each person in the crowd answers with the joyous response of 'Alithós Anésti' (truly He is risen) and 'Alithinós O Kírios'  (true is The Lord).  The church bells begin to ring and the resurrection is celebrated with fireworks and bangers set alight the night skies. In some areas gunshots are fired It is customary for everyone to take their candle home with them, doing their best not to let it go out on the way, bringing home the Resurrection light, a good blessing for the coming year. In the week leading up to Easter Sunday you will hear 'Kalo Paskha' (Happy Easter), on or after that day the saying is  'Xronia Polla' again (many happy returns).

On Sunday morning lent is traditionally broken by eating 'mayiritsa' a rich soup made from the intestines of the lamb, cooked with rice and lemon.

Easter 'paska' is the most celebrated and important festival for Greeks. Celebrated after lent with the roasting of lambs and goats the eating of the red-dyed eggs, (the equivalent of Easter Eggs) that have been prepared with special seaweed that when the eggs are boiled they turn red and represents the blood of Christ in a lot of areas small delicate flowers and leaves are placed next to the eggs in a muslin before being boil leaving an intricate design on the shell. Easter bread 'lambropsomo',or 'tsoureki' is bake normally on Maundy Thursday and is decorated with an egg in the centre. People tap their eggs against each others and the owner of the last uncracked egg is considered lucky.

   

MAY DAY

  

This day also known as labour day, is celebrated with flowers and home made multicoloured wreaths hanging on the outside of houses and flowers placed on the windscreens of cars. This ancient custom of the celebration of spring is world wide but in Greece according to tradition, a garlic is placed into the flowers to protect the house from bad luck and ward off ill fortune and the evil eye.

   

ASCENSION DAY

  

Celebrated forty days after Easter and is usually during May. Services are held all over the island with picnics or barbecues and dancing after the evening services. Visits to churches and graveyards or silent pray all in remembrance of family and friends who have departed.

   

15th AUGUST 'PANAYIA'

    

Celebrations are held all over Crete in all towns and villages, the great feast of 'Apokimisis tis Panayias' is the day when people traditionally return to their home village. Food is served in many churchyards at the end of the service around lunchtime. Around Hania area you can visit the feast  of Panayia at Gonia Monastery. 

  

CELEBRATION OF THE HOLY CROSS

  

The 14th September is the day in all churches around the island the Cross will be richly decorated with basil. 'Basilico' means 'belonging to the king' after the services all the parishioners are given a bunch of basil to take home. This plant is grown in and around most gardens and verandahs. Valued for its sweet aroma and green leaves. There are two kinds the small leaf variety and the larger which is normally used in cooking. The worship of the holy cross comes from Helen the mother of Constantine the Great, who was the first Christian emperor, his mother who allegedly found the true Cross of Christ in Palestine and in turn became a Saint herself.

   

TABLE OF DATES AND VENUES OF MAJOR EVENTS

 

SOME DATES CHANGE YEARLY

VILLAGE - CHURCH

CELEBRATION

1st JANUARY

All over Crete

The Feast of Saint Basil. New years cake is sliced and shared amongst the congregation at midnight to celebrate New Year.
6th  JANUARY All over Crete Epiphany 'Theofania' The Baptism of Christ. After the morning ceremony  processions where the Holy Cross is immersed in the sea by the Bishops and Priests and young men dive into the cold waters to retrieve it.

FEBRUARY - MARCH 

Hania, Souda, Palaiochora, Kalyves, Vatolako Carnivals on the Sundays 1 Month before Lent, and the first Monday of Lent. Clean Monday is celebrated with the flying of kites and picnics with traditional food for fasting and dancing.

25th MARCH

 

The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary - All over Crete To honour the news given to Mary that she was to become the mother of Christ.  After the evening service on March 24th, traditional food and dancing at the feast.

Independence Day celebration of the 1821 Revolution with parades & dancing

 

APRIL

The village of Vamos 'Hohlidovradia' (festival for cooking snails, a traditional Cretan delicacy).

23 APRIL or the next day after  Easter

Feast of St. George in Vryses and Nea Roumata, in Kalogeros of Strovles, Psathogianno, Kambanos, Platanias Asigonia Ayios Yeoryios is the patron saint of shepherds, large rural celebrations are held throughout Crete but in Asigonia an impressive stock market is held where the shepherds of the area bring their flocks to be blessed in the church of Saint George. Their milk is then distributed to everyone.  A large feast takes place after the celebration with dancing and music.
1st MAY DAY Public Holiday May day celebrations take place with most people heading to the countryside to picnic and pick flowers. Many take their first swim in the sea on this day.
MAY  20 -27th
Hania The anniversary of the battle of Crete is celebrated in Hania and a different local village each year.  It includes sporting events commemorating those who were killed, folk dancing and ceremonies with veterans of the battle.
MAY Kournas Lake A great day out, 'Koresia' athletic games and Canoe kayaking at the lake.
MAY 21st The feast of St. Constantine & his mother,  Ayia Eleni (St. Helena). All over Crete Feast day to celebrate the first Byzantine Orthodox ruler and his mother. Services and celebrations at churches and monasteries named after the saint especially Arkadhi.
MAY - SEPTEMBER 
Municipality of Nea Kydonia Athletic Events which include Beach Volley, Beach Soccer, Beach Handball and racket games.
MAY Hania Athletic games and National track events take place at the National Stadium of Hania 'Venizelia'. The Cretan Peace Conference 
JULY AUGUST & SEPTEMBER Cultural Summer Events in  Hania.  Kissamos, Nea Kydonia, Pelekanos and Yeorgioupolis Cultural Summer Events include music and stage performances at the theatre at the Eastern Trench, Public Garden, 'Venizelio' music school, Park of Peace and Friendship and other events in several neighborhoods of the town & island.
JUNE Karanou Cherries Festival.
8th JUNE Public Holiday

St. Theodoroi 

Ayios Pnefmatos Day. Holy

On Theodoroi island.
19th JUNE Public Holiday Pentecost
24th JUNE Summer Solstice & John the Baptist.

St. loannis.


Vamos

Celebrations and bonfires. 


Klidonas, in Fres, Akrotiri, Perivolia, Therisso, Vamvakopoulo

Feast of the 'Klidona' religious fire fiesta.  An historic celebration every June which maintains an interesting custom of burning the flower wreaths which were made on first of May.

Late JUNE Souda Naval Week, celebrations and parades all week, laying of wreaths at all Cenotaphs.
1st week of JULY Fourni and the village of Anoyia Artistic events that take place every year.
20th JULY Sougia The Festival of the Prophet Elias. Lots of chapels that have been built on peaks and hillsides are dedicated to the prophet, also known as the Christian incarnation of the sun god Helios.
21st - 28th JULY Elafonisos Monument in Inahorio. A Memorial service is held at the monument of Elafonisos, a feast is held in honour of the elderly with lots of traditional treats being served.
24th - 27th JULY Omalos plateau Four days of music, local food and entertainment celebrating the 'Cretan Land' set in a fascinating landscape.
26th JULY   Gramvousa Kissamos A pilgrimage takes place by boat from the port of Kissamos to Balos and onto the island of Gramvousa.
30th - 31st JULY Vouves Wine Festival. Wine tasting and traditional dancing.
JULY Kandanos The Festival of 'Kalitsouni' cheese pie.
The beginning of AUGUST Vamos The 'Vamos' cultural events.
In the beginning of AUGUST 

 

Kasteli Wine festival  an opportunity to taste Cretan wine accompanied by local music, dances and appetizers.
First Sunday of AUGUST Rotonda - Episkopi. Blessing of the fruit of the earth at the Monastery of Archangel Michael.
5th - 12th AUGUST Neoria -Hania Agricultural August exhibition of Quality Cretan Products.
12th AUGUST Ayios Matthaios The feast day of St Matthew, with special celebrations in Kasteli, Kissamos.
15th AUGUST 
'The Assumption of the Virgin Mary'

 

 





Elafonissi

Celebrated in towns and villages throughout Crete, the feast of the 'Apokimisis tis Panayias' Kefalas, Litsarda, Kolymbari, Platanias, Chrysoskalitissa, Therisos, Palaia Roumata, Pemonia, Meskla, Loutraki, Orthouni, Likotinara, Exopolis.

Gonia Monastery

Chrysoskalitissa,Monastery Assumption of the Holy Virgin a major religious holiday and celebrations after the evening service on 14th August. With some services beginning at dawn on the 15th.

 

Mid AUGUST Sitia Sultana Festival. A very enjoyable, week long celebration of the local harvest, with plenty of wine flowing.
20th AUGUST Afrata Honey  Festival.
24th AUGUST St. Fanourios


Ayios Eftihios

 

Feast days in Vryses Apokoronas, Kiparisos, Rapaniana

Celebrations of this saint's day are especially fervent in the south west corner of the island, where most of the children are given his name, Festivities also at Kambanos near Sougia, Hania.
25th AUGUST Ayios Titos Patron Saint of Crete, this day is celebrated all over the island and with a big procession in Heraklion.
29th AUGUST Ayios loannis 






Kolymbari

 

A big name day on the island with a pilgrimage to the church of Ayios Ioannis Gionis on the Rodhopou peninsula in Hania. Feast days also in Giona Rodopos, Manoliopoulo, Kournas.

The Festival of Ayios Ioannis at the church of Ayios Ioannis located in a steep ravine in the village of Kolymbari.

Late AUGUST Kritsa A spectacular traditional wedding especially for tourists.
14th SEPTEMBER Stavromenos - Ayios Stavros The Day of the Holy Cross. Evening service on 13th barbecue and dancing.


Alikianos, Xamoudoxori, Varipetro, Tavronitis. Tzermiadho and Kalamafka. As above

 

15th  SEPTEMBER Ayios Nikitas - in Frangokastello Horse races and athletic games.
SEPTEMBER In Souda and Nea Hora Sardine Festival.
27th SEPTEMBER At the old harbour in Hania World Day of Tourism Festival events.
11th OCTOBER Mihail Archangelos The Feast of the archangel popular at Potamies, Lasithi.
28th OCTOBER Parades in all towns National Celebration of 1940. Ohi Day Commemorative Minister Metaxas' reply to Mussolini's ultimatum in 1940 one word 'Ohi' (No). Celebrated with military and school parades. 
Mid to End of OCTOBER Prases and Elos Chestnut Fair. Celebrated more in the Southwest where most of the chestnut trees are grown.
7th - 9th OCTOBER Arkadhi southeast of Rethymnon, in the foothills of the Psiloritis Range One of Crete's biggest celebrations the anniversary of the explosion at the monastery of Arkadhi. When in 1866 Cretan guerrillas and their families took refuge in the Monastery against the Turks  until an explosion resulted in hundreds being killed. 
21st  NOVEMBER In The Cathedral of Hania The Presentation of the Virgin Mary.
6th DECEMBER Ayios Nikolaos  The Feast of the patron Saint of Seafarers. Many chapels are dedicated to him all around the island's coastline including the one at the resort named after him where parades and festivities are held on this day. Ayios Nikolaos.

Souda island.
12th DECEMBER Ayios Spiridonas  Cathedral of Kissamos.
24th  DECEMBER Topolia and Marathokefalas caves Christmas Night - Representation of the birth of Jesus.
25th DECEMBER Midnight Service all over the island. Feasting and celebrations all over the island.
31st DECEMBER - JANUARY Market Square  Hania. Carol Services. Feasting and celebrations all over the island to welcome in the New Year. In regions such as Sfakia, they celebrate the new year with the firing of guns.

 

   
  
     

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