Cretan habits and traditions worth experiencing!
The people of Crete are known for their intense localism and their independent idiosyncrasy. First, they like to introduce themselves as Cretans and then as Greeks! What fascinates the tourists and guests of the island, is their daily habits that surely manage to put a smile on the face.
The Cretan dialect and pronunciation – to start with – is very distinct and sometimes even hard for the Greeks of other regions to comprehend fully! One thing for sure, is that you will enjoy watching the locals talk to each other for their verbal tone but also for the hand gestures that accompany the talking. It is massively common, especially for men, to speak between them with “mantinades” which are Cretan rhyming couplets that can be about absolutely anything. The custom of talking with a “mantinada” rhyme derives from the 15th century and still remains a very strong characteristic of the Cretan daily routine.
If you want to get along with the locals, then all you have to do is accept their most common treat which is none other than a shot of “raki”…the “tsikoudia” or fire water as it is otherwise referred to. Raki is a highly potent, alcoholic drink made of grapes and it is supposed to act as a digestive after a meal. And we say “supposed to”…because you may get the impression that locals may use absolutely any excuse for a quick shot or two, or three of raki at any point of the day. Drinking raki from dusk till dawn is a purely social thing for the locals! If you have a shot, or two, or three you will certainly continue your walk with a happy face. Just a tip…Don’t drink more than that if you wish to remain upright!
Attending a Cretan feast or festival? Do not omit giving a go at the local folk dances if you really want to experience the zest of local fun! Folk dancing in Crete is not staged for the sake of tourism but it is a major part of the festive side of life. Each and every dance is bound by traditions and there is a strict order of who is at the start and who is at the end of the dance chain or circle. The most commonly known dances are ‘pendozali’ and ‘sousta’ which comprise of elaborate steps and jumps plus impressive acrobatic jumps by the lead dancer.
Whether you are in a dancing festival or you are walking the narrow alleyways of a small village, you are most likely to be bewildered by the melodic tunes of the ‘lira’ which is the top Cretan instrument. It is made of mulberry wood, the locals absolutely worship it and it makes Cretan music all the more exciting and interesting!
The months between May and September are the most common ones for hosting a wedding or a baby’s christening, so chances are very high you are going to experience one of those happy events from afar or, indeed, from close up if you are self-invited! Those events are cause for a massive celebration and a crazy atmosphere with usually 1.000 to 3.000 invitees…if not the whole village. The wedding treat is given after the ceremony and it is a small tulle bag containing sugared almonds. In return, the guests pass in front of the couple and their families to congratulate and hand over their gift in an envelope. Yes you guessed correctly! The gift is usually money.
The feast that follows is characterised by ounces of food, wine and traditional dancing till the morning hours. It is indeed a very happy occasion that you will thoroughly enjoy if you do decide to join in! Do not hesitate to taste the delicious wedding dish called ‘gamopilafo” that is pilaf rice cooked in lamb broth.
If after having the time of your life with trying all the above, you feel somewhat tired and psychologically socked, then don’t fear! It is highly probable that you have caught the “Evil Eye” or ‘mati’ as it is known in Greece and Crete. It is nothing to worry about…it simply means that the locals complimented a bit too much on your perfect ability to dance! Just ask for a ‘xematiasma’ and you will return to feeling great again in a jiffy!
During your holiday in Crete, you will have ample opportunities to get acquainted with the local habits and everyday life. And it is, indeed, absolutely worthy of your time…Enjoy and keep smiling!