Christmas is a time of celebration all over the world. Christmas traditions vary from country to country, but one thing remains the same: Christmas is a time for family and friends to come together and enjoy each other’s company. In Crete, Christmas is celebrated in a very special way. Let’s take a look at some of the traditions that make Christmas so special on this Mediterranean island.
Christmas in Crete
When November arrives, locals reclaim control of their towns. The roads are less congested, parking is much more manageable and it’s easier to find a spot for dinner without the hustle and bustle of summer crowds.
Even when beachside lodging and resorts close during the winter months, you can still find comfortable accommodations with great rates! City hotels, mountain retreats, and vacation homes are open all year round for your convenience.
By early December, cities across Crete sparkle and shine with thousands of Christmas lights and decorations. Main squares are adorned with magnificent Christmas trees or a spectacular Karavaki – an illuminated boat that is one of the country’s most cherished holiday traditions. It truly is a magical sight to behold!
As the winter months approach, markets begin to display a variety of fresh produce perfect for Christmas-themed recipes. Everywhere you look – from shop windows and doorways to streets and sidewalks – is filled with delicious holiday cheer! Let’s take a closer look at some of Crete’s most beloved Christmas traditions in various regions across the island.
Christmas Traditions in Crete
From November 15 to the night of January 5, Crete celebrates its traditional Christmas festivities. Starting with the 40-day Nativity Fast which goes on until December 24 in the evening, followed by Christmastide from that same day until Epiphany (5th January) – it’s a delightful time for all!
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Traditional Cretan Carols – Christmas kalanta
Christmas in Crete is an unforgettable experience! On December 24th, if you find yourself on the island of Crete, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a troupe of kids going around and ringing doorbells. They are usually singing classic Christmas carols and hoping that someone will answer their requests at each house or shop they come across.
The owner always rewards the children with pocket money, “kourampiedes”, “melomakarona” or other goods of the Cretan land for singing their songs. The older children often have triangles to accompany them, and so the magical sound of bells is a common background sound on Christmas Eve.
While in Crete at the start of December, you might encounter small boats adorned with lights as opposed to a traditional Christmas tree. This peculiar tradition began when Bavarian King Otto brought the festive tree to Greece; prior to his reign, locals customarily festooned vessels instead.
As a tradition, Crete families would craft their own decorated boats in prayer to St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. Men were often at sea during this time so these vessels served to thank him for protecting them on their journey home around Christmas. Usually, they are decorated a few days before Christmas and remain in the homes until Epiphany.
The Nativity Fast
From November 15th to the night before Christmas, December 24th, Greeks are accustomed to a forty-day fast – an integral part of their traditional holiday season.
The custom is that fish can be enjoyed until December 17, except on Wednesdays and Fridays. As an alternative to meat during the pre-Christmas fast, a traditional bean soup served with raisins, nuts and honey.
Traditional Christmas Foods in Crete
If you have the fortune to be in Crete during the period between Christmas and New Year, your taste buds will thank you. For Greeks, this time of year is all about joyous celebration with family and friends – but it’s also an opportunity for them to indulge in delectable dishes!
During the Christmas season, Greeks from far and wide share an abundance of classic dishes. But those who reside on Crete are lucky enough to enjoy their own special recipes – pork creations made with love in addition to a variety of holiday-inspired cookies and bread that truly make this festive time one for the books!
Pork is a local favorite dish and one that can be cooked with celery. However, there are many other pork dishes to experiment with – such as those prepared with tomato sauce or lemon sauce. You could also try grilled pork, or enjoy the more festive offerings of siglina, omathia and tsigarides which make use of the whole animal; from it’s fat parts to its head and feet! Village sausages and smoked pork (apaki) should also not be overlooked for their deliciousness too!
This beloved dish traces its roots to a long-standing tradition on Crete, where every family would raise and slaughter one pig for the main Christmas meal. After the festivities were done, however, the remainder of that same pork was cooked in such a way as to provide sustenance for months afterwards.
This Christmas, indulge in Crete’s two delectable cookies: Melomakarona and Kourabiedes! The first one is a honey-glazed delight with an incredibly sweet taste. It also has crushed walnuts for added texture. Whereas the second cookie, Kourabiedes, is more like shortbread or butter cookies but contains toasted almonds that give it its distinct flavour.
Over much of Crete, plus other areas in Greece, housewives cook a special bread referred to as Christopsomo (literally meaning “Bread of Christ”). For centuries, this luscious bread has been rooted in Greek culture, laden with history and symbolism.
This semi-sweet bread is an emblem of the eucharist, usually adorned with dough crosses. As a further representation of Mary’s virginity, some bakers add an egg or whole walnut to the centre for added symbolism.
Christmas Lamb Roast
In Crete, the traditional Christmas lamb roast proudly flaunts a sheep’s head, feet and tail – symbolic of the Holy Family and reflective of Christ’s resurrection.FAQs about spending Christmas in Crete.
Christmas in Heraklion
Heraklion, the largest and most vibrant city in Crete, is an excellent destination to spend Christmas. With numerous festivities throughout the town and a bustling Christmas market located at the centre of Eleftherias Square, you can find all sorts of gifts and traditional decorations that will help make your holiday season extra special!
Not only is this Christmas market renowned for its vibrant and cosy atmosphere of tiny wooden cabins, but you can also savour delicious delicacies like Heraklion’s beloved custard bougatsa. If that isn’t enough to lure in visitors, there are even opportunities to sample local spirits and mulled wine!
During the month of December, the Cathedral of Heraklion is a must-see for all travellers; local citizens gather here to celebrate in multiple liturgical services that mark this season. Make sure to stop by and take part in these special celebrations!
Christmas in Chania
During the holidays, Crete’s most picturesque town is absolutely breathtaking. Everywhere you look there are twinkling lights and festive decorations adorning the landscape. Make sure to snap a family photo at one of their special Christmas-themed photo spots for an unforgettable memory!
Visiting the Old Venetian Port is akin to entering a fairytale, with its plethora of vibrant buildings lit up by hundreds of lights. Right opposite the Egyptian Lighthouse adjacent to the Mosque of Janissaries is where you can find the City Hall’s grand Christmas tree – and stalls selling holiday treats and decorations!
On the 26th of December, shortly after Christmas Day, Chania celebrates its traditional Santa Run. This annual event brings people from all over Crete together to run a festive marathon dressed as Santas or elves for charity! It’s one of the most beloved traditions around this time of year and is sure to get anyone in the holiday spirit.
Christmas in Rethymnon
If you’re lucky enough to spend Christmas on the beautiful island of Crete, make sure to visit Rethymnon city – a lively and vibrant spot bursting with life due to its big university population. During this festive season, dozens of bars and pubs in town are even more brightly decorated than usual creating a jovial ambience that will be sure to get you into the holiday spirit!
Prepare to immerse yourself in holiday cheer as many of these establishments commence their festive festivities from mid-November all the way until early January. Fraules and Queens Rooms, both conveniently situated close to the beachfront, are renowned for offering a range of captivating Christmas events that you won’t want to miss!
From quaint street markets to spectacular Christmas bazaars, December is brimming with festive activities! Enjoy a variety of artistic performances and music festivals this holiday season.
Beyond the city lies a plethora of captivating places to explore. Visit the Psiloritis Natural Park for an unforgettable weekend in the charming village of Anogeia, where you can experience a genuine winter wonderland with snow blanketing its highest peak!
Christmas in Agios Nikolaos
Any time of the year is perfect for a visit to Agios Nikolaos, Crete’s captivating capital located in the Lasithi region. But during Christmas time, this coastal town truly sparkles with magic!
When the sun begins to set around Christmas, the small port of Agios turns into a picturesque paradise, with dozens of fishing boats lit up and adorned in twinkling decorations. The reflection of the water is nothing short of magical, radiating hues as festive as any holiday season.
The main area where locals gather is around Lake Voulismeni where a huge Christmas tree with colourful lights and decorations is a must-visit sight in town.
FAQs about Christmas in Crete
How do you say Merry Christmas in Greek?
Is December a good time to visit Crete?
Absolutely! Crete is a great destination for winter as prices tend to be lower, and you’ll have the chance to explore its archaeological sites without being surrounded by large crowds. Furthermore, temperatures are usually milder compared to other European countries.
What is the weather like in Crete at Christmas?
During the Christmas season, Crete is typically sunny with an average daytime temperature of 7°C (44°F). Ice-cold temperatures are rare, especially along the island’s coastal areas.
When is the Christmas season in Crete?
The traditional Christmas season in Crete runs from November 15 through the evening of January 5. It begins with the 40-day Nativity Fast which runs from November 15 until the evening of December 24. Christmastide begins in the evening of December 24 and ends with Epiphany.
Can you swim in Crete in December?
An average sea temperature in December is around 17 °C (62.6°F). Winter is the perfect time for a swim as it helps to strengthen your immune system. What’s more, you can enjoy the stillness and serenity of winter beaches without any distractions like bars or umbrellas. And if that isn’t enough, just think how invigorating it will be when you jump in cool waters!