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.
“Open your door
for us to sing the carols
and pour a raki
for us to make a wish for you”
This is an excerpt from traditional Cretan carols, which are revived until today. Apart from the lyrics, Cretan carols are also different concerning the musical instruments used. The voices of the small children that go from door to door to sing the carols and collect their pocket money are accompanied by triangles, Cretan lyre and lutes. These carols are really worth listening to.
The sweets play a leading role in Cretan Christmas. The melomakarona (honey cookies) and the kourabiedes (almond shortbread cookies), for the preparation of which housewives would traditionally gather and chat while making them, the xerotigana (sweet fries), the sarikia (sweets made with cheese) and the loukoumades (small fried honey puffs) are perhaps among the most popular Christmas sweets.
However, every region in Crete is unique, so its sweets vary. In Sitia, one can also taste katimeria or mizithropites (sweets filled with cheese), cookies in Ierapetra and anevata loukoumia (sweet fried dough pastries) in Lasithi. In Heraklion, the custom of the bougatsa (custard filled pastry) is still observed on New Year's Day, so that the new year is sweet.
In any case, a visit to Crete during holidays will leave you with a sweet memory.
And since, as is well known, with Minoan Lines the experience begins on board, only for the days of the festivities you will be able to enjoy the festive menu proposed by our chef at the A la Carte restaurants on our ships. Thus, you will get a taste of Christmas in Crete before you even arrive...