Since ancient times the inhabitants of Rethymno have been renowned for their skills in literature and art, and also for their devotion to traditional work concerning nature, agriculture and stockbreeding. Within this framework they have developed a specific relationship with the tradition, the customs and the way of living of their home country; they carefully keep these things alive in every corner of the prefecture and see to it that they are passed on to their children and grandchildren.
Thus both every-day-life and the days such as religious holidays or holidays arising from the social need for relaxation and entertainment are organised in an environment of continued unchanging values. Traditions relating to celebrations for the worshipping of God, nature, production and life itself represent a very important chapter in the life of the people of Rethymno as well as of all Cretans.
Religious holidays include Christmas, Epiphany, carnival festivities, Easter, the Assumption of the Virgin as well as the name days of all saints and are celebrated with particular energy. Christmas is considered a family festivity, which is celebrated in a warm, quiet atmosphere. Fragrances and flavours of traditional cooking and pastry making, special dishes, which decorate the Christmas table are just as much part of it. Epiphany is celebrated on 6 January in the ports, where the priests bless the sea by throwing the Holy Cross into the water.
Divers jump into the cold sea, competing with each other in order to catch the cross, while the sirens of large and small boats fill the air joyously. Carnival and Shrove Monday are celebrated in January or February, depending on the date of the Easter celebrations, and mark the beginning of Sarakosti, that is the Lenten period, which lasts for 40 days.
Epiphany in the Venetian port of Rethymno.
Carnival Sunday (Apokria) is the last day on which meat may be consumed before Lent begins on Shrove Monday. On that day people celebrate the event in the country with Lenten food and kite flying. Undoubtedly Easter is the most important festival of the Orthodox Church. During this period the religious belief of the people is felt strongly, since Easter celebrations are not restricted to Easter Sunday only, but they also include the previous week, Holy Week, during which the ceremonies preparing for the great celebration are carried out. The parish congregates to attend afternoon and evening services.
On Good Friday the Epitaph is decorated with fresh, sweet-smelling flowers, and in the evening it is carried through the neighbourhoods followed by the congregation, who chant and scatter roseleaves onto it. The following night, on Easter Saturday, Resurrection is celebrated. The faithful, all equipped with candles, take home the "Holy Light", which has been passed on to the congregation. At home they sit around the festive table in order to enjoy the Mayiritsa and to smash the red painted eggs. On Easter Sunday people have barbecues in the countryside, grilling lambs and celebrating the Resurrection of Christ as well as the beginning of spring.
15 August, the Assumption of the Virgin, is also one of the major holidays of the Orthodox Church, which is combined with the summer holidays and jaunts to the beaches. Religious holidays also include the name days of saints, particularly of those who are the patron saints of towns and villages. The name day of the patron saint of a village is traditionally celebrated with Cretan dances in the village square. These festivities, which usually take place during the summer months, offer the opportunity for holidaymakers and locals to come together and represent a genuine occasion of entertainment for the people living in the country.
The Cretan wedding and baptism also belong to the festivities which are closely connected with the Orthodox faith, while at the same time they offer people the opportunity to enjoy themselves and to tighten the bonds between friends and relatives. The Cretan wedding is of particular importance since the joyous event is celebrated in high spirits, and sometimes the feast lasts for days. The ceremony starts with the so-called "carrying-away", when the groom, his relatives and his friends set off for the bride's house in order to take her away. This procession is accompanied by a lyre-player and they sing "mantinades", Cretan rhymes, altogether. At the bride's house they meet with the bride's friends and relatives and after the two parties have exchanged "mantinades", the bride is finally given away while pistols are fired into the air. After the church ceremony a wonderful party is organised with Cretan dances, songs and meat and wine in abundance.
The blessing of the sheep on the name day of Aghios Georgios.