This year, we spent Easter in the magical island of Crete, the largest Greek island! During the period of Easter, the religious feeling and traditional Cretan culture blossoms, as locals do not only celebrate the Sunday of the Resurrection, but also the week before, which is called Holy Week. During that week, many customs are performed on the island – quick tip, if you really want to see and meet the genuine Easter traditions of Crete, you should leave the large cities of Chania, Rethymno and Heraklion and head down to the South part of the Island!
A tradition that is well known throughout Greece takes place on the morning of Holy Thursday, where families boil eggs and then, dye them in the colours of flowers, mainly the red poppy, but also green and yellow. The red color of the Easter eggs is either reminiscent of the spilled blood of Christ from the spear of the Roman soldier, or the joy of spring, because of the Resurrection of the Lord. Right after Resurrection and during Easter day, everyone clinks eggs with one another while shouting “Christ has risen!”, and the winner is the one, whose egg doesn’t crack.
On the morning of Holy Thursday, the families in Crete start preparing traditional Easter recipes. They make “kalitsounia”, handmade pies with Cretan soft cheese called Mizithra, and Easter cookies and buns in circular shape. Normally, in the middle of the circular bun are placed three red eggs, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. Generally, Easter treats are made of milk, eggs and cheese.
Easter in Crete is characterized by the special custom of the burning of Judas! If you have taken the road south to Chora Sfakion, you will see that, in all villages, children gather woods and leave them at the churchyard. On the eve of the Resurrection, they make a large pile of woods and at the top, they place a scarecrow symbolizing Judah. During the Resurrection, when the priest sings the hymn to the “Risen Christ”, the bell of the church rings and fireworks create a spectacular scene in the sky!
Once the hymn to the “Risen Christ” starts, everybody lights their candle or “lampada” with the holy light, which they carry to their houses in silence. They believe that, in this way, the “bad” demons will leave their household and they will have luck for the whole year.
On the day of Easter in Crete, locals prepare a big feast which is based around lamb! The “Antikristo” is a special way that Cretans slow-cook the lamb, which does not allow smoke or other toxins to enter the meat while it cooks. As always, the meal is accompanied with traditional music and dance, such as the “Syrto” a dance which we learned while staying in the seaside village of Frangokastello!