Easter in Crete: A magical occasion
Diachronically a magnet to the world’s adventurers and bon vivants, Crete, is at its most alluring at Easter, when ageless mystique blends with springtime’s abundant beauty. A spiritual as much as a festive occasion, Easter in Crete preserves many of its ancient facets and flavors; bringing together families and communities in an intuitively joyous way that has largely vanished from metropolitan centers. For all of us at Oscar Suites & Village apartments and studios in Platanias, this is a unique time to be cherished every year. We cordially invite you to do the same; and to put you in the right kind of mood, here are some characteristic, time honored and rather fascinating, religious and social customs, that you’ll encounter during Easter in Crete:
Easter in Crete traditions
Christ fasted for 48 days whilst in the desert. Fasting for Easter in Crete and the whole of Greece also lasts for the same amount of time. Traditional Cretan lent food is in fact delicious, including delicacies such as snails with wild greens; and it might even turn you into a vegetarian!
Palm Sunday precedes the commencement of the Holy Week. It is customary to get a cross made from palm fronds from the church, which you’ll will keep for the rest of the year. You also get to eat fish; as tradition mandates.
The theatrical element is quite pronounced during Easter in Crete: On the Saturday before Palm Sunday the resurrection of Lazarus occurs. Children pick up flowers and go from door to door singing the hymn of “Lazaros”: “Lazarus, tell us what you saw in Hades where you went? I saw terrors, I saw suffering and pain!”.
Equally dramatic scenes are occurring throughout the island on Holy Wednesday. To commemorate the day that Judas betrayed his teacher, children build an effigy of the Iscariot, dress it up, and parade it around the streets zestfully encouraging everyone to “Spit on him! Injure him!”
On Holy Thursday morning homemakers boil eggs and then dye them in the color of flowers, mostly the red poppy. This is to honor Christ who shed blood on account of the Romans; but also to signify the rebirth of nature in spring.
On Holy Thursday, the custom dictates that unmarried girls decorate the Bier of Christ (Epitaphios) with garlands of white and purple flowers. Churches in the various neighborhoods compete with each other for the most beautifully adorned Epitaphios.
After the procession on Holy Friday -a solemn, deeply rousing occasion- devotees take flowers from the Epitaphios back home, as it is believed that they will bring grace to their household.
Judas will pay his final dues at the Resurrection on Easter Saturday. Throughout Lent children in villages have been piling up wood on their churches’ yards. On Saturday Eve they prepare a bonfire and place a scarecrow on its top. This is meant to symbolize Judas and it will be spectacularly lit up as soon as the priest emphatically declares that Christ has Risen, on the dot of midnight; at the sound of chiming church bells; and as fireworks illuminate the sky.
Church attendants will then light up their candles and lanterns with the Holy Light which is being passed from one to another. They must make sure that it is not extinguished as they silently walk to their homes. For in this way they are banishing the demons and gaining good luck for the whole year.
Easter Sunday is a time of intense joy and ardent celebration. Families and friends gather together across the whole island of Crete to eat, drink and be -very- merry. Traditionally Cretans devour lamb or goat, in various ways: in the oven or boiled rather than on the spit, according to the prevailing Greek custom. These jubilant and usually large gatherings, also involve singing and dancing. Thanks to the famous Cretan hospitality it is quite likely that you’ll be invited to attend. Bring dessert and your largest smile and prepare for an experience you’ll never forget!
And a piece of old and sage advice from all of us at Oscar Suites & Village apartments and studios in Platanias: To refrain from tempting your fate, during the Holy Week you must not listen to music, whistle or play games of chance!