Cretan customs and traditions: A tribute by Oscar Suites & Village


Crete’s major urban centers, like Chania, are quite cosmopolitan, vibrant and contemporary in terms of look and feel (though the pace of life here is still more relaxed and humane in comparison to most cities in the Western world). But this is only part of the story. Distinctly proud of their descent, locals remain largely true to their time-honored Cretan customs and traditions. This is evident -not only in National celebrations or religious feasts like Easter– but also throughout the course of everyday lives.

Cretan customs and traditions: Cretan traditional costume

The sight of men, old and young alike, for example, clad in the traditional Cretan costume -stivania (high boots), gilotes (a special kind of baggy breeches), black shirt and a sariki (fringed kerchief) on the head- is somewhat rare, but not unlikely in big cities; and quite common, if not the norm, in mountainous villages. What’s more, sometimes this attire is accompanied by knives, or even guns, as per the custom. While most other regions of the country have long replaced their traditional wear with “frágkika roúha” (western clothing), in Crete this striking, monochrome and austere, albeit elegant outfit, is very much worn up until today: A Cretan trademark, it is one of the many surviving Cretan customs and traditions. Originally worn by Cretan revolutionaries during the Wars of Independence, its history reaches as far back as 1821.

Cretan customs and traditions: Truth & Myths

Legend has it that this apparel was adopted by Greece’s Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos (1864 – 1936), but photographic evidence from that time suggests otherwise: Venizelos just tucked his trousers in his leather boots on occasion, but was actually never depicted sporting the whole look. What has in fact transpired is that following their island’s liberation from the Ottomans in 1898, Cretans fashioned their official uniform according to these well dressed, brave captains of the resistance. Initially worn by policemen and postmen, it eventually became the normal folk’s standard.

Black is dominant and omnipresent in traditional Cretan clothing as it is the color of mourning: Locals have a strong respect for their dead and boasting extended kinship networks as they do, they pay homage to their (many) deceased by wearing black. Similarly, the knots in the traditional sariki are a symbol of mourning too: These are the ‘tears of Crete’ for all those who were heroically lost in the explosion in the Arkadi Monastery during the uprisings against the Turks.

Cretan customs and traditions, still surviving up to nowadays are manifold and fascinating. At the Oscar Suites & Villages, we do love our history and are certainly captivated by our folkways. That’s why we are more than happy to share their intricate details with you. This brief tribute to the traditional Cretan costume -which you’ll most likely encounter live once you set your foot on the island is but an example. Stay tuned for more exciting stuff- we will be soon writing about Crete’s signature mantinades: artful musical recitatives in the form of a narrative or dialogue, sung in the rhythm of accompanying music and instruments such as the Cretan lyra and laouto. Or, even better, base yourselves at our Platanias studios, suite and apartments, just steps from the famed, sandy and blue flag awarded beach of Agia Marina -Platanias and only a short 9 km drive from the iconic town of Chania, and prepare to become immersed into the wealth of Cretan customs and traditions. A vital part of your Cretan experience, they are bound to enchant you.

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