On the occasion of the feast of Saints of the Orthodox Christian calendar, many local feasts are organized in villages and towns of Crete, especially in August.
The feasts, along with religious and worship importance, contribute to the preservation of customs and traditions and to the social interaction of among the local communities. After the festivities in the temples, locals gather at the central squares of the villages and celebrate with music and dance till the early morning hours.
One of the most important religious traditions in Crete is the celebration of Christmas Mass in a real manger in the cave Marathokefala. Also during the festival of Saint John the Theologian at Marmaketo, on Lassithi plateau, the dried orchids of the epitaph bloom again. In Agios Thomas and on the Asterousia range ancient habits revive; temples and houses are surrounded with waxed ropes, to keep evil spirits away.
Ancient customs for curing patients are still alive. In Sfakia patients devote dough dolls to Saint Anthony to cure their illnesses and in Psiloritis they devote human shaped breads, lazaropsoma, during memorial services. During the celebration of Agia Pelagia, patients bury their aching legs or hands in the sand of the beach. In Achlade clothes are put on the sacred turpentine tree of Saint Fanourios.
Apart from the common Easter customs in Greece, Crete has some special local traditions to show. These include the auction of the Cross, the blessing of sheep under the epitaph, the burning of Judas, the transferring of the Holy Light at home while keeping silent and leaving red eggs on graves.
There are more customs, such as Klidonas, celebrated on the day of Saint John the Baptist in late June. During the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, pilgrims devote the first grapes of the season to bless their vineyards, while on the same day at the top of the peak Afendis of range Dikti, participants try to find coins in the soil around the church. On 3rd November, on the celebration day of Saint George “Methystis” (methystis, one who makes you drunk) barrels with wine are first opened.
On the hill Grivila near the village Ahlade there is built the church of Saint Fanourios. Approximately 100 meters from the church there is a special tree, which is connected with a religious tradition dating back from the ancient tree-worship traditions in Crete. The tree position is called Evresi (Finding) as they say that the miraculous icon of St. Fanourios was found here.
Atop the highest peak of Asterousia, Kofinas, stands the church of the Holy Cross and is accessed through a steep trail. On the Feast of Holy Cross, on September 14, dozens of people climb up there to participate in a ritual that has its roots in the Minoan times, when nature and trees were worshiped.
Paliani Monastery is one of the oldest monasteries in Crete and it has as a trademark a very old myrtle tree (Myrtus communis). This specific myrtle is considered sacred (Holy Myrtle) and is honored on September 24. Inside the trunk of the Holy Myrtle, as they say, is believed to be the icon of Panagia Mirtidiotissa (Virgin Mary of Myrtle).
Each Year, on the day of Net Monday, a feast called apokrigiomata takes place at the scenic village of Gergeri. The name is taken after the Cretan verb apokrigiono, which means cut the meat consumption, due to the starting of the Lent. This day revives customs from all over the Greek territory with many participants parading in a carnival style.
Every year, on May 8, the day of Saint John the Theologian, crowds of believers from all over Crete arrive at the small village Marmaketo, at Lasithi Plateau, to participate at the annual miracle of Marmaketo. At the main church of St. John the Theologian, on Good Friday, starts begins a customary process that ends at the feast day of St. John: On Good Friday, morning, the women of Marmaketo gather some wild orchids, called Easter flowers.
Cretan countryside is full of icon shrines; From the edges of the roads to the most unexpected places, such as beaches or mountains, gorges and woods. It is estimated that nowhere in the world there are so many religious shrines as in Crete. Most people mistakenly believe that all shrines are there to commemorate a fatal accident. However, the reality is very different for the shrines we meet in places other than the roads (where indeed, most of them are due to accidents).
One of the most impressive and beautiful customs in Crete is Klidonas that has its roots in antiquity. Klidonas is derived from the ancient word Klidon (κληδών) meaning the sign or the omen and is celebrated every year on June 24, the day of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. Lately, many villages in Crete have years revived the old custom that was tended to disappear.
At most villages of Crete on the day of Holy Saturday we meet preparations for the founara of Judah. Founara in the idiom of Crete means a big fire that burns Judah every year. On the morning of Holy Saturday the boys of the village gather dry woods and branches near the church or at a point which is visible from all the neighborhoods of the village.