Crete is deeply religious, with a rich heritage of beliefs, traditions and customs. Most of the Greek and Cretan holidays center on significant religious events from Greek Orthodox Christianity, and local regional holidays center on an area's patron saint.
The most common Greek holidays are those that have a lasting tradition and are cherished by Greeks throughout the ages.
Christmas is considered one of the three major events in the orthodox calendar along with Easter and the Day of Panagia (Virgin Mary).
On the day before Christmas and on New Year's Eve, children sing kalandas (carols) going from house to house in the village. These kalandas bless the house. Christmas, of course, is a family holiday celebrated in the family circle by a big feast. St. Basil's Day (New Year's Day) is a time for family parties and gift giving. St. Basil is the Greek Santa Claus (Father Christmas).
Considered the most important holiday and one of the richest in folklore, the celebration of Orthodox Easter (Pascha) is unique in Crete. Easter customs become a herald of the spirit’s and nature’s rebirth, while Easter celebrations constitute a vivid aspect of the folk culture, rich in meaning and symbolism.
THE DAY OF PANAGIA
The Day of Panagia, or the celebration of the Virgin Mary, is another significant religious holiday. On 15 August throughout the island at churches and sites dedicated to the Virgin Mary, pilgrims participate in ceremonies and feasts in her honour. After special services centering on the Mother of Christ, everywhere there are feasts and dances that last throughout the night.
One of the most spectacular and popular celebrations is the Carnival. The Carnival is held in Rethymno and other locations and is one of Europe's largest carnivals. Beginning in January and going until the first day of the Eastern Orthodox Lent, the Carnival is comprised of many different events. Some of the activities include treasure hunts, children's parties, parades, balls and more. A highlight of the Carnival is The Parade, where costumed groups parade on foot throughout the town. The Closing Ceremony caps off the festivities with the burning of the Carnival King's float.
The name days are spread throughout the year. Greek naming traditions are quite strict; for example, an eldest son will be named after his grandfather. His firstborn male cousins will also share that name. People celebrate with a party when it is their saint's name day. Name day celebrations consist of traveling to a local church named for that same saint, if possible, lighting a candle and partaking of the church's free food and drink. Parties can be for individuals, but, if a larger church or town shares the same name as a saint, the name day can result in a large and energetic festival.
It is thought that the goddess Rhea taught the Kourites (Cretan Tribe) to dance - this is how it all started. Cretan dances feature regional interpretations. Each region formed its own choreography and style to fit in with their own ways. Traditional Cretan dancing has a primarily social function. It brings the community together at holidays such as Easter and at key points in the lives of individuals and families, such as weddings. For this reason, tradition frequently dictates a strict order in the arrangement of the dancers, for example, by age. Famous Cretan dances are Siganos Pentozalis, Sousta or Maleviziotis, Syrtos or Chaniotikos and many others.