Christmas is the ideal period for relaxing, for spending time with our loved ones, and – why not? – getting to know the customs of a place that is rich in history and traditions, such as Crete.Although many customs of foreign origin have made their appearance on the island, in many areas of Crete locals are still resisting and honouring the traditions they have inherited from their ancestors, in an attempt to keep their roots alive.
The Christopsomo (“Christ’s bread”)
On Christmas Eve, or the day before that, the preparation of the dough for the Christmas bread starts. It is that elaborate Cretan bun, prepared with love and the purest ingredients.
The ingredients used are the same as these of bread, but some recipes also include rose water, honey, cloves, cinnamon and sesame. It is said that during kneading, housewives say: “Christ is born, the light goes up for the leaven to be done”, to ensure that the dough rises.
When the dough is ready it is separated. Part of it becomes the actual bun and part of it is used for its decoration. In the middle of the bun there is always a cross and an unbroken walnut.
In the old days, Cretans would rub some of that dough and mix it with the bran to bless their livestock. Nowadays, on Christmas day, the Christopsomo is shared by the owner of each house with his guests at Christmas table.
The Christmas Pork
The custom of eating turkey is not Greek. Therefore, traditionally, in Crete, the main meal of the festive table is pork, accompanied by apaki (traditional smoked pork tenderloin), pichti (brawn), sausages and syglino (smoked pork marinated with a mix of herbs and spices and olive oil), all made from pork. We definitely recommend you taste these delicacies!
The origin of the custom comes from the fact that in the old days every family in Crete raised a pig, whose meat constituted the main dish on the festive table, and was also the main source of meat for the new year.
Another tradition of Crete is the karakatzolia, or kalikantzaroi. It is said that the children born on Christmas day are transformed into karakatzolia, mischievous little elves that appear on Christmas Eve. According to tradition, on Sanctification day they revert to being humans again.
If you intend to visit Crete along with your children during Christmas, you can put them in the mood and arouse their imagination with this Christmas tale.