Christmas traditions in Crete

Image by Brett Sayles from Pexels
Image by Brett Sayles from Pexels

New and old seamlessly blend in an enchanting amalgam of Christmas traditions in Crete. Read on and rejoice!

From the snow-capped roofs of Rovaniemi to the sun-dappled beaches of Brazil, Christmas is a magical time of the year throughout the world. The same goes for the island of Crete: Though it’s not your typical winter wonderland kind of destination, Christmas in Greece’s largest island comes with a wealth of wonderful traditions- some new and imported; others with roots that are lost in the depths of history.

Christmas traditions in Crete: New meets Old

The influence of Western European culture is evident of course. Shop windows and streets wear their finest, with twinkling lights and ornaments creating a fairy tale scenery in the bigger Cretan cities, including Chania which looks and feels even more spectacular at this time of year. The gift laden Christmas tree has prevailed here too, as it has in most of the planet. Yet Cretans continue to also decorate their wooden sailing boats, in tribute to their nautical legacy: This aeons old custom symbolises‌ ‌the‌ ‌family’s‌ ‌gratitude‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌deities‌ ‌for‌ ‌the‌ ‌safe‌ ‌return‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌father‌ ‌and‌ ‌his‌ ‌sons‌ ‌from‌ ‌their‌ ‌voyages‌ ‌into‌ ‌the‌ ‌harsh‌ ‌Aegean‌ ‌sea‌.‌

Another Christmas tradition in Crete and the whole of Greece is the singing of the carols. School children will go carolling on the mornings of Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and Epiphany day, knocking on strangers doors and asking them if they can sing the carol –Na ta poume? Homeowners will invariably reply yes and the kids will start singing along with their triangles, accordions, lyres, or harmonicas. When they finish they are rewarded with pocket money or treated to traditional Christmas sweets, such as melomakarona or kourabiedes. This custom is still going strong nowadays, yet there is evidence to suggest that it actually hails from Ancient Greece! Kalanda (carols) comes from the Latin word calenda, which means the beginning of the month. According to archaeological finds, on the first day of the new year children in classical Athens would go from home to home carrying the Eiresione -an olive or laurel branch adorned with red and white threads, various nuts and even small bottles filled with olive oil, honey or wine. They would sing the kalanda and extend their wishes and praises to the various household members, in an effort to secure generous treats. This antique rite expressed gratitude for the past year’s fertility and was also a plea for this abundance to continue into the next year.

Christmas traditions in Crete: Born out of paganism and necessity

One of the older Christmas traditions in Crete, this time associated with the Romans, is that of the hirosfagia (pig slaughter). Though largely lost in the cities, it is still quite widespread in the countryside. According to historians, the Romans used to sacrifice pigs to the gods Demeter and Cronus to secure their favour in cultivating the land. This happened between December 17-25 – the period during which Cretans traditionally slaughtered their animals: As custom and necessity dictated, every family would raise a pig throughout the year. This was to be slain on the eve of Christmas day and subsequently devoured after the 40-day lent at the Christmas table. On the next day, groups of friends and relatives would gather together to create various meat delicacies from the animal’s leftover bits: sausages, siglino, apaki, tsiladia, omathia, and tsigarides.

Delectability factor aside, these by-products served an important role: Securing sustenance for the year. As there were no electricity or fridges in the past, the only way to preserve large quantities of meat was by smoking and salting it. In fact, nothing went to waste from the Christmas pig, as each piece of the animal served a different purpose. Take the bladder for instance. It would be washed, cleaned, inflated and turned into a ball -a valuable gift for the children of the time.

Season’s Greetings from the Oscar Suites & Village

But this is just a small sample of the wealth of Christmas traditions in Crete. As we are getting ready to partake in the season’s delights, we would like to take a moment to wish every single of our guests and friends a very merry Christmas and a happy and fulfilling New Year. It was a pleasure to have you with us at Oscar Suites & Village Hotel in Platanias and we are looking forward to welcoming you back again in 2022. Seeing you enjoying your holidays at our comfortable and stylish studios, apartments & suites, catching the sun rays in our pools, and savouring the gastronomic offerings of our Valentino pasta & grill restaurant, makes our efforts worthwhile and gives us the inspiration to try even harder. Stay tuned to our blog for more local insights, exclusive offers and exciting surprises.

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