Christmas on Crete: a fairy tale, as in your childhood

Probably, the one who flies to Crete at a night in December will get the most beautiful picture of the island shining with Christmas lights. Already in November, the upcoming holidays–Christmas and New Year–have made themselves even brighter (in the literal sense of the word): with New Year’s toys and souvenirs in stores, garlands in the streets, Christmas trees and boats in the squares. In the most remote mountain village of Crete, each house glows with lights, welcoming one of the most important holidays–the Christmas.

Agios Vasilios, the Cretan Santa Claus, collects his bag of gifts. Soon he will have to fill with them thousands of children’s shoes left under the Christmas trees and by the fireplaces. His brothers, Santa Clauses are preparing for the annual New Year’s race in Chania. Little Cretans learn “kalanta”–something like our carols, which will be sung on the doorstep of neighbors’ houses or even in taverns; and the housewives are busy in the kitchen, preparing a festive table and a mandatory cake–Vasilopita. Kneading dough is a real ritual in which the best products are used. Just look at the list of ingredients: rose water, honey, sesame seeds, cinnamon and cloves. Even while reading, you feel the smell of the cake when it is put in the oven. They hide for good luck in Vasilopita a coin–flury. Whoever gets it, will be lucky all year. Another ritual is cutting the pie: the first piece is for Christ, the second for the house, the third for its master, and then depending on the seniority.

A church visit on Holy Night is as traditional for the Cretans as it is for us to listen to the president’s speech. The godparents usually go to the service with their godson or doter, or at least give them each a Christmas candle–a large and elegant one. It is not customary to make especially significant gifts, but if you are going to visit, it is worth taking a bottle of good wine, a basket with sweets or a souvenir in the form of a boat. Ships with Christmas trees are indispensable attributes of the New Year holiday in the country of sailors and travelers.

The first guest, who has crossed the threshold of the house in the new year, is very important, and he must step with his right foot in order to bring good luck to the house. To scare away evil spirits and failures will help the sea onion with sprouted leaves in a beautiful wrapper that is tied to the door. This amazing plant sits 11 months deep in dry Greek soil, eating only the juice of its own onion, and only in December begins to break through to the surface, and with such force that even asphalt breaks through!

“Christmas is literally in the air,” write the lucky ones who are fortunate enough to celebrate the holiday on Crete.–It seems that you directly physically feel this approaching fairy tale, as if you are returning to your distant childhood. In bakeries, pastry shops, coffee houses, there are a lot of all kinds of pastries and cakes with Christmas themes, chocolate figures of Santa Clauses, the components of the festive mood. Every adult in his soul is still not quite an adult, and sweets leave few people indifferent.”

Well, back to our fairy tales… On Crete, there are many New Year’s beliefs that are still alive. For example, that at midnight before Christmas, basil blossoms, or that at the dawn of Christmas Day the sea is quiet, because the shepherd, who did not give his sheep for Christ’s manger, has repented; or that heaven opens, and if you do not fall asleep, you will see many miracles. Of course, the Cretans, like us, believe: if you make a wish this night, it will certainly come true. But there is one condition: you need to have a clean and open soul… Maybe that’s why you need to meet the Star of Bethlehem in the church service.

Svetlana Zaitseva.