Customs of Crete
Crete was incorporated into modern Greece less than one hundred years ago
in December 1913, so it is not surprising that Cretans have to some extent
maintained a degree of cultural variety. They are renowned for their proud,
independent characters and often will identify themselves as firstly,
Cretans, and then as Greeks. Paradoxically, they have an intense localism
within the island and there is much rivalry amongst the island's regions.
This, however, is almost certainly a reflection of the vital traits of
freedom and local identity of the people of Crete.
The experience of the Turkish occupation left a fairly sizeable Muslim but Greek speaking minority on the island. Mostly, now this group have now settled in and around Izmir on the Aegean coast of Turkey. The Cretan population of today are deeply religious and faithful to the Orthodox dogma, building churches to express their thanks to God or to fulfil a 'tama', or promise, given to God in exchange for a request. In the bigger towns there is a small Catholic minority. Crete has many monasteries and some of them are particularly wonderful as a retreat. The Agia Irini, in Rethymnon, is a newly built monastery for women.
As a religious community, superstition and belief in the evil eye is common. This is especially the case with the older generation. As a guest in someone's home displaying envy of their possessions is thought to bring them back luck and a return invitation is unlikely to be forthcoming. The practice of pretending to spit three times on the ground is also well-known as a devise to ward off bad luck towards the admiration of babies.
The family generally is a close-knit group and older people are treated with the most respect. In turn, older people will often greet strangers, even tourists, in the street. This relates to the practice of 'filoxenia' or hospitality because even the tourist to Crete is considered a guest.
It is common knowledge that many Cretans own guns, especially in the mountainous regions and evidence of this can be seen by the road signs in some areas which have been used as target practice. Cretan men often fire their guns at weddings and other celebrations and festivals.
There are many festivals and celebrations on the island throughout the whole year. As a large island with many churches and monasteries many Saint's days are celebrated as each church is dedicated to a particular saint and that saint's name day is usually celebrated with a religious service and a festival. There are many such festivals, every month of the year but two in particular which are held in July are firstly, St. Yakinthos (the St. Valentine of Crete) where a big celebration is celebrated in Anogia and, secondly, the festival for the Prophet Elias which is usually held at a monastery or church on the highest point of the island, usually on top of a mountain.
As well as the numerous Saints' Days and Name Days there are many national holidays which celebrate heroic dates of both Greece and Crete. For example, on May 21st the battle of Crete is celebrated in Chania and Rethymnon. Finally, there are festivals and feasts that celebrate nature. Examples include the Feast of the Flowers on 1st May, the Feast of the Klidona in June and, at the end of June and early July, Navy week with entertainment in the ports. In July and August there are wine festivals, Sultana Raisin festivals, theatre and music festivals. All this culminates in the biggest religious holiday, after Easter, on the 15th August, The Day of Panagia (Virgin Mary).
Christenings and weddings in Crete are often big occasions and reasons for celebrations, often with huge numbers of guests. The traditional formality of marriage, especially in the villages is still quite prevalent with the prospective groom required to obtain the consent of the bride's father before announcing an engagement. Having received parental consent and blessing, an engagement ceremony takes place in the bride-to-be's home and is blessed by a priest. After this has happened a marriage contract is drawn up and signed by all parties.
A few days prior to the wedding the guests send presents or 'kaniskia' which usually comprises olive oil, wine, cheese or meat. The trousseau is carried from the bride's home to the groom's and will consist of all the hand-woven household linen that have been made to form part of her dowry. This transferring of goods, from one house to the other, is accompanied by a cheerful parade of friends and relatives, musicians, singing and gun fire. The parade then returns to the bride's home where a woman must sing a mantinada before the family will open the door.
After the actual wedding ceremony, the couple return to the house of the groom's parents and the new wife is given honey and walnuts by her mother-in-law. The bride in turn pours honey and breaks a sweet-smelling pommerade to ensure a sweet marriage. The party then begins with the couple singing and dancing, drinking and eating and often continues until dawn the next day. It is customary for guests to give gifts of money, which are passed either to the couple's parents or to the couple themselves in discrete envelopes. Only the closest family and friends give anything but money. This is so that the newly weds are able to start of their new life together in comfort. It is also customary that male guests make a donation to the musicians.
Cretan dances are bound by traditions and it is not coincidental who is at the start and who is at the end of the chain. At weddings in particular, there is a fixed order for who is to dance and when. According to tradition the bride's family dances first, then the groom's family followed by the friends of the bride and then friends of the groom. Only when these dances are over can the other guests join in the dancing. Very often a whole family will 'pay' for a dance and it is considered impolite to join in unless you have been asked. However, later in the evening everyone is normally welcome to participate. .