EASTER in Crete is the most important religious festival of the year. The ceremonies last throughout Easter week. The Monday evening service is called ‘The Bridegroom Service’ as the Priest carries an icon of Christ, ‘the bridegroom’ through the Church. Tuesday is dedicated to Mary Magdalene and Wednesday is the Day of Atonement. On Thursday worshippers mourn for Christ at the evening services and on Good Friday the symbolic body of Christ is carried through the streets. The climax of the week is the Saturday evening service after which, at midnight, all lights are extinguished and the Priest appears holding one candle and announces….. ‘Hristos Anesti’…..Christ has risen again.
JANUARY 1st. The church ceremony is followed by an exchange of gifts, singing, dancing and feasting in the streets. A New Year Pie is sliced and the person who gets the slice containing a coin will have a lucky year.
FEBRUARY – MARCH. Shrove Monday (Clean Monday). On the Monday before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent) people take to the hills to picnic and fly kites.
MAY – May Day. On the first day of May there is a mass exodus from the towns to the countryside and the beaches. During picnics, wild flowers are gathered and made into wreaths to decorate houses.
Battle of Crete. During the last week of May the ancient town of Chania (Hania) commemorates the Battle of Crete in athletic competitions, folk dancing in the streets and ceremonial events.
JUNE – Navy Week is celebrated in even numbered years during the last week of June and commemorates Crete’s relationship with the sea. In Crete’s harbour towns there are music and dancing events, together with sailing and swimming competitions in the sea.
Feast of John the Baptist is a feast day that is very widely celebrated (June 24). The wreaths that were made on May Day are kept until this day and then burned on bonfires.
JULY – Feast of Agia Marina (St Marina) This feast is celebrated on July 17 and is particularly important in the Town of Agia Marina, just outside Chania.
Wine Festival of Rethymno is held in the municipal park with an abundance of wine tasting and Greek cuisine being offered.
AUGUST – Assumption Day. Greeks celebrate Assumption Day (August 15) with family reunions. The whole population of the island is on the move! The neighbouring island of Tinos gets extremely busy because of its miracle working icon of Panagia Evangelistria. It has become a place of pilgrimage for thousands.
Paleohora Music Festival is devoted to music, song and dance. The first 10 days of the month are filled with song contests and concerts are staged every night in this tiny south coast harbour- side village.
Wine Festival of Arhanes is held on August 15 and is the conclusion of the five day wine festival celebrating the excellent wine from this village.
Sultana Festival of Sitia is held during the last week of the month to celebrate their superior sultana raisins with wine, music and dancing.
Potato Festival. Lasithi produces superior potatoes, a product which is celebrated in the Potato Festival held for three days at Tzermiado towards the end of the month.
Traditional Cretan Wedding. In late August, Kritsa stages a traditional Cretan Wedding replete with songs, dancing and traditional Cretan food. All are welcome for an admission price of around 5eur.
SEPTEMBER – sees Genisis tis Panagias (the Virgins Birthday). This date is celebrated on September 8 throughout Greece with religious services and feasting.
OCTOBER – Chestnut Festival. The village of Elos stages a Chestnut Festival on the third Sunday of the month when everyone is offered roasted chestnuts, chestnut sweets and tsikoudia.
Ohi (NO!) Day. Metaxas’ refusal to allow Mussolini’s troops through Crete during World War II is commemorated on October 28 with large numbers of remembrance services, folk dancing, feasting and military parades.
DECEMBER – Christmas Day is celebrated – although it is not as important as Easter. Much western influence is apparent with Christmas trees and decorations.
Spring and Summer Festivals and Performances.
There are cultural festivals throughout Crete in the Spring and Summer. The most important are the annual Renaissance Festival in Rethymno featuring dance, drama and films and the Sitia Kornaria Festival in Rethymno presenting music, theatre, art exhibits and a beach volleyball competition!