We have already received many questions about visiting the island at festival time and also Easter. What happens, availability of accommodation, food etc., and whilst visiting other things to see and do.

Most people and tour companies seem to think Crete closes for the winter. Not so, independent accommodation (with both air conditioning and central heating) is available in many villages and you will always be able to find hotel accommodation in the main towns and resorts.




Don't think for one minute that Brazilians in Rio de Janeiro or the Italians of Venice are the only ones who know how to party.
The week before Shrove Monday Carnivals 'Apokries' are held all over Greece. On Crete you have a choice of parades to visit. Rethymnon is becoming very popular and better organised every year with lots and lots of bars, clubs and parties to go to before the weekend is over. Another Cretan carnival is the one held in Malia, which is also improving year after year. Heraklion's carnival was famous all over Greece in the 20th century but unfortunately has gradually dwindled and reduced in size.  


The Carnival or Mardi Gras isn't just a tradition of the Venetians or the Brazilians, it actually comes from the Latin word for 'farewell to meat'. We can then assume (as well as history informing us) that this time of year amongst the Roman Catholic world was just a good excuse to party before having to give up meat before Easter. Even the covering of the face with a mask can be traced back to Roman celebrations.


In the 1700's a Carnival began in December after Christmas and went on until Ash Wednesday. This non-stop partying, included gambling and widespread irresponsibility and was part of the weakening of the Venetian Democracy. It was only after Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797 that an end was put to Carnival time. But astute businessmen recognised the potential of a new tourist season. Hence the ancient Carnival was reborn.

Nowadays, all week parties, satirical plays, pantomime and dancing take place on Crete with masquerades everywhere, as you can imagine the place is buzzing. Then at the weekend you have the processions and fancy dress competitions. On Sunday the cavalcade of elaborately decorated floats happens. For the pageant, shops are full of streamers, confetti, whistles, plastic hammers, hats, wigs and a large array of masks, from cardboard to a complete plastic head covers resembling anyone from Frankenstein to an American President, all to enable you to keep your identity a secret. If you're visiting and forgot to pack your batman ensemble! Remember you can wear your most casual clothes, or don the most outlandish costumes which can be made by hand, hired or even bought - "where's the dustbin liner?"

On 'Kathari Theftera' Shrove Monday the fun doesn't stop. Shrove Monday marks the commencement of the 40 day period of Lent prior to Easter, which traditionally symbolises the beginning of a spiritual and physical cleansing especially after the 'sins' of the previous weeks! As well as cleaning the soul it literally means to clean the house. All the kitchen utensils used to be cleaned with ash water, to remove any traces of meat products. 

Although it is a day of fasting it is celebrated with singing, dancing and kite flying, picnics are held all over from the hill tops to the seashore. In the larger towns you find unusual traditions being re-enacted, such as mock weddings where the bride is a man. Other comical plays take place where fake funeral possessions also happen. Once more, these are a satirical form of ancient rites and rituals, which I am not even going to try and explain.


Over the years another custom has been added, the highly colourful and visual activity of kite flying. There are often competition as to who can fly the highest, and both children and adults take part. Once more it is a time for family and friends to get together and a traditional Shrove Monday meal or picnic which consists of fish roe salad, tzadziki seafood, dolmathes (vineleaves stuffed with rice and spices), pickled vegetables, fresh salads, bread, and of course plenty of wine helps with the festivities. For a meal to remember, invite your family and friends together this Easter and enjoy the start of the summer season with traditional lamb roasted with garlic and served with seasonal vegetables and salad. (see below)




Easter is the most important celebration in Greece and of the Orthodox calendar. Much more important than Christmas or New Year, with Greeks returning from all parts of the world to be with their family and friends, to celebrate this special time in their own villages.

Easter in Greece is the cornerstone of belief and social values and is probably the only time of the year that all of the family, young and old, believe in and will attend together. They come instantaneously to attend this deep rooted tradition, as the excitement of the week grips everyone even those most unaccustomed to attending a regular service within their home villages.

The Sunday before Easter, or Palm Sunday is the start of 'Megali Evthomada' (big week) or Holy Week. The older women, always devout in every detail, will be seen daily visiting the churches, decorating them with flowers, saying prayers and ensuring that everything is well prepared for the daily services.


Traditionally no meat is eaten for the whole of Lent (40 days) but once again you normally find only the devoted ladies of the village will abide to this full duration, today it is normal to fast only just during Holy Week. The sanctioned foods only of salads, beans, eggs, cheeses, pies made of weeds or spinach are made, with fish replacing meat.


More preparation is made on Holy Thursday when the freshest of eggs are boiled with a red dye and polished with olive oil for Easter Sunday. The 'Tsoureki' bread is baked - twisted loaves of sweet bread containing a red egg. 'Prosforo' Holy Bread is also prepared by the bakers and stamped with the seal of the church, to be blessed and distributed by the priest in a the church services.


'Megali Paraskevi' Holy Friday arrives and during the day services will be held in remembrance of Christ's crucifixion. Whilst the evening is the time of a solemn parade through the streets with what is known as the 'Epitaphios' Christ's Funeral bier ornately decorated with flowers. (A bier is a platform where a body rests before burial or entombment)
Then on Saturday evening the children, especially the boys, wait eagerly for the moment to let off their fire works or bangers. Then at midnight a mass takes place to celebrate Christ's triumphant return to life 'Anastasi' or Resurrection. In many churches all lights are extinguished this is when Christ passes through to the underworld. The 'Papas' Priest then appears from behind the altar screen with a lit flame.

'The light of the World'

He then proceeds to ignite the unlit candles, this flame is then passed from one to another until the whole church is ablaze with candle light. The Papas then announces that 'Christos Anesti' Christ has risen, the skies all over Greece are soon illuminated with fireworks. With the whole community exchanging the traditional response 'Alithos Anesti' he has truly arisen.

The burning candles are taken home through the streets with many of the young girls trying desperately to make it home with their candles still aflame. At the door it is common practice to make the sign of the cross on the lintel leaving a black smear visible for the rest of the year.


This is the first time the Easter Eggs are cracked each person is given a red egg to tap against another's, end on end, until one is broken, the person with the last remaining uncracked egg is considered to be lucky.


The fast is then broken with 'magiritsa' Easter Soup made from the giblets of the lamb prepared with rice, lemon and vegetables. Sunday and the midday services at church are a joyous occasion, bells ring and often more processions take place.



The disproportionate eating then begins, with roast meats, dairy produce, sweet foods and lots of wine and spirits. But most of all this is primarily a time for families, Greek people make much of the Easter Sunday celebrations, with all the traditional foods being prepared and enjoyed. The Easter lamb is the centre piece and more often than not cooked by the men of the house, you will always see makeshift barbecues, some in old oil cans cut in half or on the ground with the skewered lamb or goat supported above the glowing embers, slowly being turned to ensure a well basted treat.


Take time this Easter to remember your time in Greece with a few typical Greek traditions, that include inviting family and friend round for a barbecued or roast dinner. We have put together a menu thats easy to cook with ingredients obtainable from most parts of the world in local supermarkets of delicatessens.  It is the custom for the men to cook the meat at Easter so ladies you shouldn't lose out by spending too much time in the kitchen. The four courses make good use of English seasonal produce as well as more unusual ingredients, and include a range of appetisers to whet the appetite.

Serve the appetisers to whet the appetite with a chilled glass of traditional good quality Cretan wine. Then begin the time-honoured leisurely meal of, stuffed tomatoes followed by roast leg of lamb with lemon oven cooked potatoes and vegetables and of course not forgetting a Greek salad. Finished off with a wide choice of fruit all served on a large platter.



Prawns - Dolmadas (stuffed vine leaves) - Taramasalata - Tzatziki - Feta cheese -  mini pitas - or chunks of fresh baked bread.

Starter Serves: 8
25g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
150g fresh white breadcrumbs
200g minced pork or beef
1 medium purple salad onion, finely chopped 
3 tbsp each chopped fresh parsley and dill
1 medium egg, beaten
8 large tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4. Melt the butter and oil in a pan, add the onion and celery and fry for about 5 minutes, or until softened.
Mix together minced meat and breadcrumbs in a bowl. Add the onion, herbs and egg and seasoning. Mix well, using your hands or a fork, until evenly combined.

Slice the top off each tomato and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Place in a large, shallow ovenproof dish and spoon in the stuffing. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender and the stuffing evenly browned. Preparation time: 25 minutes Cooking time: 25-30 minutes

Main Course 
2kg Whole Leg of Lamb
10 cloves garlic or more optional
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1.5kg floury potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
4 tbsp olive oil
4 sprigs each fresh thyme and oregano
300ml hot vegetable stock
3 lemons

Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4. Using the point of a sharp knife, score the fat of the lamb all over with diagonal criss-cross lines. Peel and slice 2 of the cloves garlic. Make slits in the lamb along the scored lines and press the garlic slices into them. Sprinkle the lamb with the juice of a 1 lemon and season.

Thickly slice the unpeeled potatoes and spread over a large roasting tin. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss together to coat. Scatter over the remaining unpeeled garlic cloves with the herb sprigs and seasoning. Place the lamb on top of the potatoes and roast for 1 hour, then squeeze the juice from the remaining 2 lemons and pour over the potatoes with the stock. Continue to roast for a further 30-40 minutes, adding more stock if it starts to dry out.

Transfer the lamb to a serving platter, cover tightly with foil and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Transfer the potatoes and pan juices to a warm dish and keep warm in the oven. Carve the lamb into thick slices and serve with the potatoes. Make sure each person gets a clove of garlic to spread over the lamb. Preparation time: 25 minutes Cooking time: 1 hour, 30-40 minutes

Spring Vegetables


250g french beans
100g asparagus tips
150g sugar snap peas if available
1tsp lemon zest
25g  butter

Spring Vegetables with Lemon Butter

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add 250g french beans and cook for 3 minutes, then add 100g asparagus tips and cook for 3 minutes more.

Add 150g trimmed sugar snap peas and cook for 1 minute, then thoroughly drain the vegetables and return to the pan.

Add 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest and 25g butter, and stir over a low heat until the butter has melted and all the vegetables are evenly coated. Transfer to a warm dish and serve with the lamb.



At this time of year a salad would normally consist of grated white cabbage and carrot with dressing of olive oil, wine vinegar, salt and pepper.





 More Culture pages
: Easter : Christmas : Cretan Wedding : Baptism : Roadside Shrines : Kafenion : Periptero :
: Raki : Komboloy : Hunting Season : Black Veil : Cretan Dagger : Cretan Biscuit :
: Threshing Circles : Tavli : Puppet Theatre : The Mitato :



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