Carnival traditions in Crete have deep roots in antiquity and are associated with myths and folk stories, ancient customs of fertility, the “awakening” of nature, the intoxicating effect of spring and -of course- wine that pours generously in all carnival events on the island, to honor the legacy of god Dionysus! The carnival season is three weeks of frenzy partying, meat-eating, and interesting carnival events all around the island. Carnival festivities climax on the last Sunday before the official start of Lent and continue until the next day, Clean Monday. Some customs, such as the abduction of the bride, the camel and face-painting are taking place in many different places, and there is a carnival event in every Cretan city and village. Here we present some of the most representative ones that offer the best carnival experiences, lots of food, wine, and fun!
Clean Monday in Gergeri
Clean Monday marks the beginning of the Lent and the last carnival festivities. One of the places to be on this day, is the village of Gergeri, at the southern foot of Mt. Idi. Carnival festivities in Gergeri attract hundreds of visitors every year who come to participate in a large “folk” street party with many ‘happenings’, parades, dances, music and presentation of local customs. One of most representative local customs is the “unfit wedding ceremony”, a parody of a bizarre couple that spreads laughter and fun!
“Bride kidnapping” in Melidoni
“Bride kidnapping” is a common theme and one of the many wedding parodies that take place during the carnival, a custom with a long history. The ancient roots of the custom start with the ‘wedding of Dionysus’ and the celebrations in his honor (anthesteria). Later, in the Ottoman period, the custom was adjusted to tell the story of a bride abducted by the Turks! The best place to witness this custom is in the village of Melidoni (Rethymnon) on Clean Monday, where a big street feast is organized around this custom, with live music, lots of food and wine.
The Camel in Meronas and Gerani
An old custom that reflects the curiosity and admiration of Cretans when they first saw a camel, probably brought to the island by Arab conquerors and pirates. The “camel” is two people covered with ornaments and coverings in the shape of a camel. A camel man tries to command the camel, but the animal is disobedient and creates comical scenes in the village streets. The camel is a funny and interesting custom that takes place in the villages of Meronas and Gerani in Rethymnon.
The Carnival Parade in Rethymnon
The oldest and most popular carnival parade in Crete takes place on the last Carnival Sunday (a day before Clean Monday), attracting thousands of participants who come to experience carnival madness! Endless partying, happenings, concerts, Cretan music serenades and a variety of cultural events make the Carnival in Rethymnon a unique must-see festivity!
*Cover photo: from the official fb page of Rethymno Carnival