Easter in Chania blends ageless mystique with springtime’s blooming beauty. This is a spiritual as much as a festive occasion, with many ancient facets and flavours; bringing together communities in an intuitively joyous way that has been largely lost in contemporary metropolises. And food, inextricably linked with the piously observed, time-honoured Easter traditions, plays an important role. Base yourselves at the Adeste Chania Luxury villas and prepare for a multisensory experience, with palatable delights in the limelight.
Easter in Chania: Lenten Food
What makes Easter in Chania, if not the whole of Crete, so special, is that it spans a period of 48 days – starting with the beginning of Lent after Ash Monday and culminating with the exuberant food and drinks extravaganza of Easter Sunday.
The word “Lent” has Germanic roots referring to the “lengthening” of days or springtime. Commemorating Jesus’ own time of fasting and praying in the desert, Easter Lent forbids the consumption of meat, fish, dairy and eggs at all times – with the exception of March 25, Annunciation Day, which coincides with Greek Independence Day, and on which fried salt cod with garlic sauce is devoured with gusto and the clergys’ wholehearted approval.
The idea is to avoid self-indulgence during this period of repentance and self-discipline. Yet even if you are set upon strictly observing the fast, Crete’s lenten delicacies are so delectable that shall please even the most fanatical meat lovers!
Bar one exception, fish, as creatures with blood, are prohibited throughout the Orthodox Lent, in honour of the blood Christ shed for mankind. Yet shellfish and crustaceans, being bloodless, are permitted. Faced with the restrictions imposed by the Church and nature, over the years Cretan cooks have become especially inventive. They boil or stew octopus, squid and cuttlefish with what’s in season and in doing so they produce veritable culinary gems like cuttlefish with fennel and olives – one of the most authentic Lenten dishes in Chania. Picked after the rains of March and April, snails with rosemary, “hohlioi boubouristoi”, are another popular Cretan delicacy, guzzled at this time of year, and so are “marathopita” – pie filled with fresh fennel, and “kaltsounia”, made of greens and herbs wrapped in pastry.
Easter in Chania: Holly Week Food & Customs
The holy week sees a flurry of activity, with age-old traditions taking place and homemakers getting busy baking Easter treats:
On Holy Wednesday, the day that Judas betrayed his teacher, children build an effigy of the Iscariot, dress it up in rags, and parade it around the streets zestfully encouraging everyone to “Spit on him! Injure him!”
Holy Thursday is dedicated to dyeing eggs in the colour of the red poppy: This is to honour Christ who shed blood because of the Romans as well as to signify the rebirth of nature in spring. It is also the day for baking Easter sweets: kalitsounia, lyhnarakia, avgokouloures, tsourekia and lambrokouloura. These local treats are however made with butter, milk, and eggs – all prohibited during the long period of fasting before the resurrection, and shall remain off-bounds until Easter Sunday.
Good Friday is a day of intense sorrow and mourning. Locals partake in the drama by refraining from using hammers or nails as this would be a great sin. For the love of Christ, who was given vinegar to drink, they also refrain from eating sweet things. Instead, they shall get sustenance from a soup made of sesame paste, lettuce or lentils with vinegar.
In the evening, church service is followed by the procession of the bier of Christ. This is a deeply moving occasion with choirs and the faithful singing beautiful hymns and holding lit candles as the procession takes into the streets.
Holy Saturday brings about a change of climate. Local housewives rise early to prepare for the – first and most modest – feast, that will follow the Mass at midnight: Bringing together the theatrical and the metaphysical with elation and joy, this symbolic resurrection, once again affirms the miracle of life, in a ceremony filled with lights, sounds and traditional mpalothies (shooting guns in the air). The fasting period is ended after 48 days, with a rich meal that’s designed to prepare the stomach for the banquet ensuing on the next day. Typical dishes include mageiritsa (a kind of tripe soup made with finely chopped lamb entrails, lemon juice, lettuce and dill); gardoumpakia (lamb belly wrapped in offal); fresh cheese and strong local red wine for the toast. Try them in one of Chania’s restaurants – just ask our concierge to arrange everything for you, or throw your own party at your Adeste luxury villa in Chania with the help of our chef on-demand service.
Easter in Chania: What to Eat on Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday brings about the culmination of the Easter period with large friends and family gatherings across Crete. As in most of Greece, the custom of the lamb or kid on the spit is popular on this island too – and those in charge of the roasting will wake up at dawn to prepare for the festivities. In older times though, Cretans would use different roasting techniques known as ofto or antikristo: This involves large pieces of meat arranged opposite each other on wooden or iron spits and allowed to roast by the fire. Though not as common nowadays, ofto lamb is meat lovers’ idea of heaven.
Traditional Easter Sunday delicacies also include boiled lamb with tomato sauce and strifta (local pasta), lamb with artichokes and avgolemono (a savoury lemon and egg sauce) and the famous Chania meat pie, with lamb and local cheese in puff pastry. Another custom that’s still going strong today is the “toasting” of the red eggs, with attendees rapping their eggs against their friends’ eggs and the owner of the last uncracked egg declared the luckiest of them all.
Easter Sunday festivities extend throughout the day. Copious amounts of mirth-inducing wine and raki are served to visitors that keep on coming – Cretans are a truly hospitable lot, and it would be both a pleasure and an honour to get invited to one of these great feasts. In this case, you’d also have the opportunity to listen to mantinades (impromptu playful poems and rhymes) and rizitika (a capella songs) and also dance to folk music and songs.