Autumn and/or winter vacations
Plan autumn or winter holidays in Platanias and you will be rewarded with unique experiences…..
Grapes have been grown and wine has been produced on the island of Crete ever since the Minoan Era. There is no chance of feasting without wine, therefore each family produces its own. After the grapes are harvested , they are placed in a special compartment where they are crushed either by mechanical means or by trampling on them with bare feet. The liquid produced is collected in special barrels or tanks where it “matures” as days go by and result in a tasty, aromatic wine- one of the best in the world.
“Tsikoudia”(or raki )
The leftovers of the crushed grapes are placed in containers where they are left to ferment for a period of 20-30 days. Then they are boiled in special distilleries and “tsikoudia” is produced. It is the custom for friends to come together for such an occasion and have a great feast eating and drinking wine or newly produced “tsikoudia”. The usual treat is meat barbecued on the coals glowing under the distiller but there are also other treats such as wild mushrooms, chestnuts, kalitsounia(pies made with greens and soft white cheese) – all of these picked or grown in the surrounding area.
Picking of Olives
One of the most significant agricultural activities of the autumn and winter months is that of picking olives and producing olive oil –a task in which nearly every Cretan participates.
In the lowlands a species called “lianes” is grown. These trees are usually short and their olives are small. These olives are picked by beating the branches with special equipment and collecting the olives on nets or special sackcloth spread underneath the trees.
On the hillsides or mountainous areas there is another species called “tsounates” with definitely larger olives and trees rising to a height of 10 to 15 or even more metres. Special nets are spread under the trees to collect the olives whenever they fall, they are collected in sacks every 20-30 days and the nets are left there till the end of the harvest, often lasting to the end of May and sometimes the beginning of June.
After the olives are gathered they are taken to the olive factory where the processing takes place and olive oil is produced.
Since most Cretans own their own olive trees , they are self-sufficient in olive oil , the most valuable product of the island ever since ancient times. It is famous all over the world for its quality and value – truly “the green gold” as the locals call it.
Another very special product are the olives themselves, table olives, processed in many ways and preserved in salt , vinegar or lemon and bitter orange juice, a real delicacy for locals and visitors alike.
Christmas- New Year’s Day
The Christmas period is especially bright and colourful , obviously influenced by western European culture. There are bright colourful lights everywhere which, along with all the other impressive decoration, create an incredible sight. Days before Christmas housewives are busy preparing traditional sweets for these special days- tradition ordered “melomakarona” for Christmas and “kourambiedes” for New Year’s Day.
There is also another interesting tradition of these days : on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve young children form groups of 3 or 4 and go to every house and shop in the village singing Christmas carols and getting money or various gifts as a reward. The carols are sung to the accompaniment of a small metallic triangle, jingling away the music, but it is not rare to see and hear guitars, accordions, lyras or even harmonicas.
Christmas trees are decorated everywhere , due to western European influence.
On New Year’s Day the tradition of the “vassilopita” comes to us from very ancient years. This is a special, very tasty cake containing a lucky “golden” coin , and especially prepared for the occasion of the advent of the new year.
As soon as the new year starts, the cake is cut . Whoever gets the coin is considered very lucky and gets presents from the hosts of the house they’ve gathered to celebrate.
Finally, there is the “podariko”, a century-old tradition, according to which the first person(not necessarily a member of the family) to enter the house on New Year’s Day can bring good or bad luck to the household.
On New Year’s Eve many people play cards with little money because the aim is to have a good time – not to make money.
EPIPHANY (or “FOTA” as it is also called)
The first blessing of the waters takes place in the church on the previous day . After this , the priest takes the cross, the holy water and a twig of basil and visits each and every house . He dips the basil in the holy water and sprinkles it all over each room separately, at the same time chanting prayers and hymns for the “well- being” of all those living there.
The big ceremony for the blessing of the waters is held on the day of the Epiphany. A great procession is formed, headed by the priest carrying the cross, local officials and people carrying various sacred objects and holy icons. They all walk towards the sea or a river or even an aqueduct- whichever is closer. Very often the procession is accompanied by a band –usually the military or municipal one.
After the special hymns are sung for the blessing of the waters, the priest tosses the cross into the water and-despite the freezing cold – some people dare to dive and try to retrieve the cross. The person who finds it and brings it to the surface is considered lucky and blessed with health and good luck for the whole year which follows.
Spring- Summer Holidays
Plan your holidays in spring or summer and enjoy unique experiences such as …..
This is a feast for Orthodox Christians and it is celebrated 50 days before Easter at the beginning of Lent – a 50-day fasting period . During this period people must abstain from meat, butter and fats, eggs and dairy products.
On Clean Monday local people usually go on trips to the countryside with their families where they fly kites, have fun and eat food allowed while fasting such as octopus, olives, greens, “taramosalata” and a special bread called “lagana”. They drink wine and often dance to the accompaniment of Cretan folk music exchanging wishes for the Easter which is on its way.
Orthodox Easter is celebrated a week later than the Catholic one due to dogmatic reasons. It is considered one of the most significant feasts of the Orthodox Church. The Easter period is the ideal time to visit Crete : the weather is great, the countryside is full of trees and flowers in full bloom and everything is extremely beautiful. The beauty of the island on the one hand and the impressive religious events of the days create a unique experience for the visitor.
Every day of the Holy Week there are evening masses attended by many people. On Holy Saturday, near midnight, the Mass of the Resurrection is held. A minute or two before midnight the lights are turned off and the people with the priest go outside the church. At midnight exactly the candle held by the priest lights up (symbolising the Resurrection of Christ). One by one those present light their candles either from the priest’s candle or from some other person standing nearby. Young children usually carry big fancy, coloured candles traditionally brought to them by their godfather or godmother.
All day on Holy Saturday children and teenagers carry wood and other flammable material , pile them up forming a little “hill”. On the top of this hill they hang a “scarecrow” representing Judas, the Apostle who betrayed Christ. When the priest says “Christ has risen” they set fire to the wood . A huge fire starts burning, firecrackers light up the sky, the church bells ring and the people rejoice embracing and kissing each other, exchanging warm wishes .
They take the candles they have lit home and, before entering the house, they sketch
the symbol of the cross with the soot from their candle flame.
The festive meal awaits them with traditional food : “magiritsa” and red dyed eggs. “Magiritsa” is a kind of soup containing intestines .
Easter Sunday is celebrated by roasting lambs on the spit , making “kokoretsi” also on the spit and many –many sweets – after all they had been fasting for 50 days!
This is a very special event in the lives of Cretan sheep breeders. It is, you could say, the “feast of the sheep”.
It is one of the most impressive events taking place yearly in June. The sheep breeder invites all his friends and relatives to help him carry out this difficult task. When the shearing is over they all enjoy the meal which has been prepared and which includes a very rich meal as well as feasting, drinking, singing and even dancing .
Sheep shearing is a long and tiresome process. The first part –called “kolokourisma”- is usually carried out in the beginning of spring. It means shearing the hind legs and the tail area in order to protect the sheep’s wool from getting dirty since their excrement is “watery” due to the fresh grass they’re grazing. In June there follows the completion of the task – the shearing of the whole body. This aims at helping the animals not to suffer from the summer heat . The wool used to be processed and used by the family in order to make clothes. Nowadays it is sold to merchants at very low prices receiving –not money- some item in return.
From July to September local bee keepers are busy harvesting one of the most precious products of the land – honey. Cretan thyme honey is not only the healthiest , it is also the tastiest one resulting from the various herbs and flowers the bees come in touch with. The bee keepers take their hives from the lowlands , where citrus trees are in full bloom in spring , to the hillsides and mountains full of aromatic herbs, especially thyme.
Because of this great variety of the sources the bees get nectar from, it goes without saying that this honey is not only the tastiest , it is also the best in content of nutrients and substances valuable for your health.