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Experience Easter in Crete: Customs & Celebrations

Saying farewell to the winter season that officially ended in March, April arrives with a …spring in its step, and brings with it Spring’s grandest feast: Easter Sunday on the 16th April. Easter is perhaps the most important holiday across the entire of Greece and Crete is no exception. The salience of the Easter celebration is threefold as it brings together religion, interesting customs and the subtle Mediterranean climate, culminating in one of the greatest times to visit Crete, and experience the bittersweet festivity of this incredible season.

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The Christian Orthodox faith keeps the customs of Easter very much alive, passing them down from generation to generation. However, choosing to follow the strict, dietary guidelines is entirely up to each person, household, or establishment.

One thing is for sure; if you find yourself in Crete during Easter time, you will definitely eat well.

After the Carnival is over, and following on from Clean Monday, the first day that Lent commences, a gradual fasting regime begins to make its way into household kitchens, leading up to Holy Saturday, the eve of Easter Sunday. As the culinary choices are slowly being restricted week by week, this is part of a spiritual and bodily cleanse that prepares us to receive God with the purest of hearts. Lent in Crete is not at all something to be alarmed about if you are planning on visiting, as although Cretans enjoy their meat, as do most Greeks, they will readily accept the traditional fasting guidelines. Why? Well, apart from wanting to hold onto these culinary customs, Cretans are so creative in gastronomy that they can easily lay a whole table, filled with tasty and delicious treats that are primarily based in vegetables and legumes, plus numerous dough creations, such as pies of all kinds.

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The Holy Week arrives, when everything is being prepared step by step, in a countdown for the great, big feast! Godparents must have made sure that their godchildren received their annual chocolate Easter egg or bunny and of course, the ‘lampada’; the ornate, white candle that everyone takes with them to the pre-midnight, Holy Saturday sermon. The homes begin to smell like bakeries, as each prepares the customary Easter cookies (koulourakia), the sweet milk bread ‘tsoureki’ and in Crete specifically, we also make the special bread ‘lamprokouloura’ and our beloved ‘kalitsounia’ (special cheese pies with Mizithra). We also traditionally dye hard boiled eggs a bright red colour, symbolising the blood of Christ, to use in order to …toast his Resurrection! Of course, according to tradition, none of these special treats are to be consumed until returning from church on Holy Saturday night.

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On Good Friday, we experience one of the saddest days of the week, following Christ’s crucifixion. The church bells toll differently today, heavy and in mourning, and in the evening, the flower laden Epitaph is taken around the city, starting from St. Minas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, followed by a subdued, procession of the faithfuls dressed in black. Many of the shops, stores and tavernas may remain closed as a sign of grief.
As Holy Saturday dawns, there is a more exuberant aura that soon takes over the city, charged with the anticipation of midnight. The streets are quiet, yet cannot contain their excitement. The post-midnight table is piously set, patiently awaiting the return from church. The Resurrection sermon begins at 00:00 am with joyous bell sounds, and ‘Christos Anesti’ being chimed through the speakers, while the blessed, Holy Light is being shared to all the faithfuls by lighting their lampades, illuminating the night with the light of a thousand flames. Fireworks and firecrackers set the sky ablaze in a euphoric, Easter dance of lights and everyone exchanges wishes of hope and love. A light dinner is served, featuring the traditional ‘magiritsa’ (offal and viscera) soup, but there are always loads of alternatives if you are not a fan.

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Easter Sunday has finally come, and we can enjoy every single bit about being Greek! Primarily celebrated outdoors, it is common to light a bonfire that burns from the early morning, preparing the embers for spit roasting! Meat is honorary, since it has been off the menu for quite some time, so be prepared for roasted lambs on spits, or the typical ‘kokoretsi’, a tasty mix of meat types. The table is absolutely brimming with all sorts: salads, dips, bite size appetisers and traditional starters, a lot of Raki and Tsikoudia going round. Grab a red Easter egg and toast with the person sitting next to you, by clinking them head to butt (and vice versa) until the strongest egg chooses the victor, upon whom the Easter blessing is bestowed. And it wouldn’t be a feast without traditional, music and dancing, keeping spirits high and well into the evening.

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Spending Easter in Herakleion you will get to completely immerse into the Easter sentiment, as our city is a perfect blend for exuding cosmopolitan city and outdoor vibes, at the same time. Our Galaxy Hotel Iraklio especially, is a paragon for bringing together exceptional, 5* experiences in a 5* environment, and invites you to take advantage of our Easter package, giving you the opportunity to live your own version of a Cretan Easter, including all the customary treats and benefits, for an unforgettable holiday!

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