Christmas in Crete is a beautiful one. It is one of those seasons that brings family and friends close; it is a magical holiday filled with blessings of rebirth, hope and light. A season full of laughter, joy, delicious treats and heartwarming traditions. And although our Elounda Gulf Villas and Suites is closed for guests during the winter, we are overjoyed to share the Cretan way of celebrating Christmas.
Those who are more traditional in their approach to religious holidays, will tend to follow the lent customs associated with Christmas and Easter. Although this is not adhered to by the younger generations as much, it is typical that the older generations will fast up to 40 days before Christmas. The faithfuls will steer clear of meat, dairy and eggs gradually, this way cleansing themselves before the Christmas celebratory feast. The Christmas feast has pork as the most prominent ingredient, made into a variety of different recipes as we Cretans enjoy the gastronomic culture of meze. We prefer to have many different dishes to sample rather than just one main one. If you have visited us before you will know that we like to keep our flavours interesting and diverse! During the holidays, sweet treats are prepared filling the households full of mouthwatering fragrances: Christmas cookies of two kinds, melomakarona (honey glazed with walnuts) and kourambiedes (almond shortbread with caster sugar) as well as diples, fried dough in syrup. Christopsomo is a special festive bread that is semi sweet and is served on Christmas Day.
On December 6th, we celebrate St. Nicholas Day, the patron saint of sailors and seamen who are a large part of Crete’s livelihood. And this is also the main reason why in Crete we used to decorate a wooden ship replica rather than a Christmas tree. Of course, the Christmas tree has gradually become more and more popular, but for those who say that this is a western custom rather than a Greek one, there is evidence to show that on the first day of the new year the children of ancient Greeks used to rejoice holding decorated branches while singing the ancient ritual carol of Eiresione. Nowadays, Christmas and New Year’s carols take place on the eves of the three celebratory days: Christmas Eve (24th December), New Year’s Eve (31st December), and on the Eve of Epiphany day (5th January). Children go around their neighbourhoods and ring their neighbour’s door bells to sing and wish them blessings.
It is on New Year’s Day rather than on Christmas Day that Cretans will exchange presents. Cretans have Saint Basil or Agios Vasilis close to their hears, whom we celebrate on the first day of the New Year. Christmas in Crete is more about the birth of Jesus Christ rather than Santa Claus. Which brings us to the importance of Epiphany Day. From Christmas Eve and until Epiphany Day, it is said that evil spirits are able to rise from the underworld and roam our realm, entering people’s homes at night in an attempt to torment and defile them. Yet on the 6th January, the priests all over Crete will bless the waters by throwing a cross into the sea, and the faithfuls dive into the cold sea to catch it. This ultimately symbolises the baptism of Jesus Christ, the banishment of all evil spirits, spreading the holy light, thus culminating the festive celebrations.
For those of you who have experienced Crete any time of the year, we hope that you consider it your second home. Cretans simply love to be the hosts of wonderful occasions, whether it is regarding festive celebrations, relaxing holidays or family excursions. If you have not experienced Crete, then the New Year provides you with the chance to do so, and if you have been here before, we sincerely hope that we will see you again.
Wishing you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!