The Greek Orthodox Easter in Crete is a vibrant celebration that brings together family, friends, and communities in a joyous atmosphere of feasting, music, and dance. The tradition of celebrating the Resurrection of Christ is deeply rooted in Greek culture and is observed with great zeal and enthusiasm across the country.
One of the most iconic aspects of the Cretan Easter celebration is the abundant feast that features a wide variety of traditional delicacies.
In Crete, Easter is celebrated with many customs and traditions, one of which is the burning of Judas, also known as "Yiouda" in the local dialect. This tradition is widespread throughout the island during Holy Week. With the exception of some villages in Rethymno where the tradition unfolds during the Epitaph procession on Good Friday, Judas is burned in a spectacular way on the night of the Resurrection in all the towns and villages from Chania to Ierapetra.
One of the most impressive displays takes place at the Lake of Agios Nikolaos in Lasithi, where the burning of Judas is accompanied by a fantastic fireworks display. This event was missed by the locals for two years due to the pandemic, and they are eagerly awaiting its return.
In the villages, a "Fournara" is set up with "Xinopodia," which are collected by young people from the mountains on Holy Thursday to be burned with Judas. Many people also set up a small bonfire in the yard of their homes "for the good."
The procession of the Epitaphios (Burial Shroud of Christ) is not the only thing that takes place on Good Friday.
One of the most unique Epitaphios in Greece is that of Saint John the Theologian in the village of Marmaketo in the Plateau of Lassithi. For the decoration of the Epitaphios, women gather various wild orchid species, the famous "violes" of Lambrini or "sweet little eyes," which grow naturally in Dikti.
For a whole week leading up to the Resurrection Day, the flowers are carefully placed on the Epitaphios and hung on wires inside the church. On May 6th, Saint John's feast day, the withered or dried out orchids that remain hanging on the wires "bloom" again. This is due to the fact that the flowers have retained moisture inside. However, the faithful believe that this is the work of the Saint and consider it a miracle, keeping them in their homes throughout the year.
This tradition is impressive, but its execution depends on the bloom, which does not always come. It is amazing how the people of Marmaketo have managed to preserve and pass down this beautiful custom from generation to generation. It is a testament to the enduring power of faith and the beauty of nature.
Along with it, the traditional Cretan feast known as "tsibousi" is also "circulated" in the villages, which consists of dried nuts, orange slices, olives, oven-baked potatoes (in the ash) and the essential raki (a traditional Greek alcoholic drink) in generous quantities.
All of these can be found in every home that has its table set and its doors open to all those who follow the procession of the Epitaphios. In each home, a stop is made for the householders to pay their respects to the Epitaphios and for those who follow to be treated with hospitality.
As the hour's pass, the procession becomes smaller as the faithful stay behind in their homes to partake in a modest, due to the day, celebration.
The atmosphere in the small villages of Crete during Easter is particularly pleasant, as both locals and visitors are few and far between, and feel like a small group with their own secrets. The visitor will be able to enjoy local delicacies at the exceptional restaurants of beautiful guesthouses that were created by the restoration of once-ruined houses in Milia of Chania and in Kapetaniana of Heraklion.
On the evening of the Resurrection, it is quiet and solemn in the microscopic chapel of Kapetaniana and in the beautiful Panagia Chrysoskalitissa in Elafonisi, which serves Milia. In both of these villages, Easter Sunday passes in a calm and familial atmosphere. The visitor will feel like they are invited into someone's home in the village.
The small villages of Crete offer a unique experience for those who seek to immerse themselves in the local culture during Easter. Away from the hustle and bustle of tourist destinations, visitors will feel like they are part of a secret club that cherishes the traditions of the island. The picturesque scenery and warm hospitality of the locals will leave a lasting impression on those who seek a tranquil and authentic experience during the holiday season.
In conclusion, visiting the small villages of Crete during Easter is an ideal way to escape the crowds and experience the island's rich cultural heritage. The unique atmosphere, exceptional food, and warm hospitality of the locals will make visitors feel like they are at home in the village.
Especially delicious meze dishes during this season are raw artichokes with lemon, lupins, wild hyacinth bulbs, snails (cooked or in a stew), pumpkin blossoms, and various wild greens such as purslane and samphire that can be eaten as salad, boiled, fried or in pies. Those who are not strict in observing the fast can enjoy fresh Cretan cheeses, such as anthotyros and myzithra.
Easter in Crete is a celebration like no other. As soon as the priest announces the resurrection of Christ, the bells of all the churches start ringing continuously until the evening of Easter Sunday. It is a time for joy and celebration, and everyone is welcome to join in the festivities.
If you happen to pass by a church during this time, you can ring the bell and spread the joyful message of the resurrection of Christ or even make a wish that will protect you from the troubles of the year. Tables are set early in the morning of Easter Sunday, and the culmination of the feast, which characterizes the Cretans, begins with the meat-eating extravaganza.
The quantities consumed during Easter are incredible and correspond to whole herds.
Spit-roasted lamb, a roasted kid with coarse salt, kokoretsi, pai-dakia, gardoumbakia, and meat pies are some of the traditional dishes that are found in every household. And of course, the traditional Cretan kalitsounia, which are usually salty in Chania and sweet in Heraklion, the ultimate delight for the palate, which no one can resist, as well as eggs and thick pasta with butter.
All these dishes are accompanied by the local wine, marouvas, and liatika, served in abundance in pitchers. With traditional songs and dances, the celebration continues until late at night. It is a time to come together, celebrate life, and embrace the traditions of the past.
Easter in Crete is a time of family, community, and of sharing. It is a time to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, feast on delicious food, and enjoy the company of loved ones. It is a time to experience the unique culture and traditions of this beautiful island and to create memories that will last a lifetime. (With sources from Kathimerini)
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