Folk tradition constitutes an inexhaustible contemporary entity with customs, materials, spiritual features and ancient habits that have forms the core of the modern Cretan Life over the years. The multicultural and distant past of Crete is reflected in all aspects of modern Cretan people, such as language, dance, music, food, arts and crafts.
Many primitive crafts remain alive on the island, while they have become obsolete in other parts of Greece. There are still several areas of the island resisting to the invasion of modem technology. Potters at Thrapsano, Kentri and Margarites mold clay just like the Minoans did thousands of years ago. Hundreds of vessels, identical to those found in the Minoan palaces, are still used for storing olive oil, grains and other agricultural products. Carpenters transform wood into traditional musical instruments, such as the lyre and the lute. Vori, Zaros, Rethynnon, Neapolis and Kritsa are places famous for their long tradition in the manufacture and development of such i instruments. Cobblers in major cities and villages such as Anogia, make the traditional stivania, the resistant Cretan leather boots.
Knife manufacturers in Chania and Heraklion convert steel into the famous Cretan knife, The inseparable companion of each Cretan. Engraved depictions and poems adorn the blades. Women’s cooperatives in all major villages still weave on the loom, just like women did in the Minoan times. Sariki, the Cretan head scarf with fringes resembling tears, symbolizes lamentation for the hardships Crete experienced in the past centuries. The black sariki is worn as a sign of mourning, while the white sariki is worn as a sign of joy during weddings, feasts, births and christenings. Wood and marble sculptors give life to materials of the Cretan land by carving logs and stones and by manufacturing elaborate works, mainly of ecclesiastical art. Visitors can visit venues exhibiting woodcraft at the villages of Axos and Asteri and marble works. at the International Sculpture Symposium in Venerato.
The island has a long and rich musical tradition with deep roots in antiquity, strongly influenced by the Byzantine music and enriched by the musical culture of the wider eastern Mediterranean. During feasts and celebrations, locals and visitors get involved with the special musical culture of Crete.
Cretan music is considered the most vibrant in Greece, because it not only continues to evolve and incorporate creative contemporary musical features, but also manages to express modem reality. Improvisation is one of the characteristics of Cretan artists. Musicians are not limited to repeating basic melodies but enrich their playing with improvisations that accompany dancers, who in turn spontaneously contrive new moves.
Mantinades, small poems, reflect the emotions of Cretans and express sorrow, love and any feeling that arises from the sensitive Cretan soul. One of the most impressive “scenes” during a typical Cretan feast, is when two or more improvisers exchange mantinades for hours.
Greek dances and music first appeared in Crete, where the mother of the Gods, Rhea, taught them to Curetes who venerated her. The most famous Cretan dance was the Pyrrhic. Very famous throughout Greece, Cretan dances are echoes of the dances of the Curetes. Traditional Cretan dances are danced by men and women, who wear their wonderful Cretan costumes in formal events. They are either fast or slow, but always vivid and imposing. When danced by groups of men, they remind of the war dances of Curetes.
With the lyre or the violin as a guide, accompanied by the lute and rarer instruments, such as the bulgari, the askomandoura or the thiamboli, dancers present the complex steps and the first of the cycle, usually a man, performs skillful dance movements called talimia. Each area of the island has its own traditional dances, most of which retain the primitive circular pattern. Main dances are pentozalis, kastrinos, pidichtos, sousta, siganos and syrtos.
Cretans have always loved arts and events, through which they can come into contact with their social environment and share their emotions. On summer nights, various cities of the island organize art exhibitions and festivals of theater, music, film and dance. Concerts are performed in stadiums, archaeological sites, on The Venetian walls of Heraklion and Chania or in small theaters in the countryside.
The religious celebrations are always framed with Cretan music and dance at village squares or near the churches, reviving customs of the Minoan ages. There are many events that have been associated with local products and are always an occasion for a big celebration. Feasts of potato, raki, zucchini, bread, wheat, wine, cheese, snail, cherry and apple include free tasting of the traditional products of each region. When winter arrives, celebrations do not stop. Groups of friends gather in kazania (raki distilleries), where the rite of distilling raki soon turns into a traditional feast with dance and music.
Several customs revive across τhe countryside during Christmas and New Year’s Eve. In the past, white animals (sheep and cows) should enter houses in order to keep evil spirits away. Similarly, sea squills are hanged on the doors as a symbol of immortality. One of the most remarkable modem Christmas traditions is the Divine Liturgy inside a real manger in the cave of Marathokefala. 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 festival 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.
During the feast celebration of the Holy Cross at the top of Kofinas revives a dendrolatric custom; the fruits of three trees, which locals call apples of Kofinas are gathered, blessed by the priest and shared to the pilgrims that eat them.
Carnival is another great celebration with roots deep into the past and is enthusiastically celebrated in places like Gergeri in Heraklion, with Arkoudiarides (wild bears) wearing furs and bells, the soiled faces of the Lerades, Siviani which is a special mask made of the roots of centuryplant and other typical figures such as the Camel and the Cadi (Turkish judge). Larger cities on the island organize parades and treasure hunts.
Apart from the common Easter customs in Greece, Crete has its own local traditions to show. These include the auction of the Cross, sheep blessing under the epitaph, the burning of Judas, the transferring of the Holy Light at home while remaining speechless and leaving red eggs on graves. Also, during the celebration 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.
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 the range Dikti, participants try to find coins in the soil around the church. On November 3rd, on the feast day of Saint George Methystis (“meth is” is the one that makes you drunk) barrels with wine are first opened. The villages Asi Gonia and Karoti in Rethymnon host the celebration of Saint George. Sheep are milked before the priest and milk is shared to the congregation.