Epiphany in many European countries is as important as Christmas. In fact, in orthodox churches in Greece and Russia, 6th of January is Christmas Day. In Crete, however, Epiphany is called Theofania or Fota and is important because it is a day for blessing the waters – clearly something of prime interest to an island. Priests go from house to house with a cross and a huge branch of basil, blessing the house and those who live there. In Crete, a special dish of boiled wheat with peas called fotokoliva is prepared and eaten not just by people but also livestock. This brings luck throughout the following year. On the actual day of the Epiphany, a huge procession lines up in all the major towns. It doesn’t just happen on the coast but wherever there is a body of water, a river or a lake – even reservoirs will do when there is nothing else. At the head of the procession are cherub images, then the priests in their best vestments, then all the important people of the town. If the area has a band they join in, then all the people, including guests, walk behind the priest to the water’s edge where he throws a cross in, to bless the waters. Although the water in Crete in January isn’t as cold as in the UK it is still pretty chilly so the young men who jump in after the cross are quite hardy – the first one to surface holding the cross will have good luck and good health for the rest of the year. It is a joyful time in Crete and because the procession’s tail is not too organized, it is easy for tourists to join in and have a great time.
How to get there
Crete has two airports, but it is likely that flights from the UK, especially in winter, will arrive at N. Kazantzakis Airport at Heraklion. This is a good place to stay and enjoy Epiphany in Crete as it is a large town with loads of places to stay, but transport is very good on the island, so it is simple to transfer to anywhere by bus, cab or hired car. You can also transfer to Crete from mainland Greek airports, in which case the flight might well arrive at Chania.
Enjoy some January sun
Crete has some lovely warm temperatures in January – not swimming or sunbathing weather but very pleasant, with sunny skies and not much likelihood of rain. Whereas some people don’t like celebrating Christmas Day away from home, the Epiphany celebrations in Crete lend themselves to some sunny weather and are an interesting way to start the New Year. The wheat and peas are thankfully not the only food on offer – the Christmas pastries and cakes are still very much on the menu and sitting outside in January enjoying coffee and a bun has to be a great holiday, even if it is just a short break.
If you’re interested in booking a holiday to Crete or anywhere else in Greece this year, be sure to check out First Choice, they offer some unbeatable prices on all-inclusive holidays.