Christmas is one of the most important holidays in Crete. Greeks make sure to celebrate it well, gathering with their extended families over plenty of delicious food, wine and raki. While Crete, and Greece in general, were definitely affected by globalisation and took over some foreign Christmas habits, some old local traditions still take place and add unique character to Cretan Christmas festivities.
Amongst these is the decoration of boats with lights and garlands. This custom takes place on the 6th of December, the celebration of St. Nicholas. This saint is believed to look over the fishermen & sailors. As this would make up for the most of the men on Greek islands, the majority of the households would decorate their boats in honour of Saint Nicholas who made sure the husbands and sons came back to their homes safely during the last year. The boats stay decorated throughout December. In modern times, the families decorate both boats and Christmas trees, in the spirit of the global tradition.
Christmas carols are also a part of December festivities in Crete. Around Christmas Eve & on Christmas Day, you will see children and families walking around the streets & singing carols to the beautiful sounds of Cretan Lyra and the ringing of the Kalanta triangle.
Needless to say, the biggest part of the celebration for Cretans is the Christmas meal. Greeks are famous for their well-balanced Mediterranean diet with lots of fish and vegetables. Well, let us tell you that Christmas is definitely all about meat! Even back in the days when meat was scarce, all the families would save one pig that would get slaughtered right before Christmas and would make several dishes out of every possible part of its body: sausages, pihti (pork jelly soup), apaki (smoked pork), siglina (cured pork), omathies (stuffed pork sausage), tsigarithres (meat boiled in fat) and so on. Even the bladder would be washed and turned into a ball for kids to play – nothing goes to waste!
Apart from lots of meat, another absolute must for Christmas in Crete is Christopsomo (Christmas bread that symbolises the holy body of Jesus Christ), as well as some fabulous sweets – melomakarona and kourabiedes. If you happen to be visiting Crete during Christmas, make sure not to miss these!
Christmas in Crete may be different from what you are used to but is still unique and charming season. Just like every time of the year in Crete! 😉