'Easter is an excellent time to visit Crete''– it’s the most important festival in the Greek calendar, and carries with it a range of customs and traditions that create an unforgettable experience for visitors.
The first thing you need to know about Easter in Crete is that it’s not always on the date you might expect. Most of the population in Greece and the Greek Islands belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church, which calculates the date of Easter differently to both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. Greek Orthodox Easter is usually between 1 and 5 weeks after Catholic/Protestant Easter, but sometimes it does fall on the same dates – as it does in 2017 (16 April).
'Apokries' – Before you get close to Easter, there’s the carnival of Aprokries. This lasts for three weeks before Lent, and includes “meat week” and “cheese week” as the last days of eating those products until after Lent, similar to Pancake Day traditions in the UK. On the last day of Apokries, Tyrofagis Sunday, many carnival parades are held, and this is a really exciting time to be in Crete. The following day is Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera), which is a bank holiday, the first day of fasting for Lent and often seen as the first day of springtime.
Lent represents 49 days of fasting; excluding meat, fish (but not other seafood), eggs, oil and dairy products from the diet. However, few people fast strictly for the entire period, so you should still be able to enjoy these products in local tavernas if you wish.
Holy Week (Megali Evdomada) – the week leading up to Easter itself, this is when most people seriously follow the Easter fast. Because of this, a lot of tavernas will close for this period, and those that do remain open will offer a menu of seafood and vegetable dishes which are within the Lent restrictions. If you don’t wish to follow the fast yourself during this period, you should therefore be prepared to cook for yourself instead of eating out. Church services will be held throughout the week.
During Holy Week, Cretan women dye eggs bright red to symbolise the blood of Christ on the cross, and bake koulourakia (butter biscuits, below) and kalitsounia (cheese or herb pies) which will be eaten after the fast ends.
Good Friday (Megali Paraskevi) – This is a day of mourning, with church bells ringing and a solemn procession after the main church service, with the congregation dressed in black following the epitaph. This is quite a sight to see, but it is a solemn service so be respectful. Many tavernas are closed, and shops normally open for reduced hours, so plan ahead to make sure you don’t go hungry. Good Friday falls on the 14th April in 2017.
Easter Saturday (Megalo Sabbato) – Children will spend the day preparing a bonfire and an effigy of Judas. At around 11pm, the main church service will begin, leading up to the stroke of midnight when all lights are extinguished before the priest appears with a lighted taper, symbolising Christ’s resurrection. From this taper, the congregation’s candles are re-lit, and at the end of the service the church bells ring and the effigy of Judas is burnt on the bonfire amidst a display of fireworks. Easter Saturday is not the time to have an early night!
The fast is lifted at midnight, and many tavernas will open after the service, with meat back on the menu and live music to celebrate late into the night.
Easter Sunday (Kyriaki tou Paska) – On Easter Sunday, the traditional Easter party is held outside, with a lamb roasting on a spit, plenty of wine, music and dancing with friends and family.
Cretan hospitality shows itself today – if neighbours are celebrating as you pass by, you may well be invited to join them for a celebratory drink. If a local calls out “Christos anesti” to you (Christ is risen), the expected reply is “Alithos anesti”, meaning “He is risen indeed” – and this is often a great way to make new friends in Crete.
Shops, museums and archaeological sites are often closed on Easter Sunday, but many tavernas will be open.
Easter Monday is a bank holiday, with shops and most museums remaining closed, however the main sites at Knossos and Phaistos usually reopen.
With all this to see and get involved in, Easter is an amazing time to stay in Crete, so call us on +30 69770 44199 to ask about availability.