Right Time, Right Place: Greek Orthodox Easter in Chania, Crete


One reason we travel is to better understand how another part of the world lives from day to day, but if we’re really lucky we find ourselves in a certain place at a certain time to participate in something so special to that culture that it stays with us for a long time.

I hope you all had a happy Easter and at this time of year I now remember the Orthodox Easter I celebrated in Greece, in Chania, Crete. My friends and I planned to be in Chania at a certain time, we were staying with my friend’s Aunt Karen, but we had no idea we would be arriving during Holy Week. I grew up as a Catholic but was very familiar with the Orthodox religion as my mother grew up as an Orthodox in the Middle East. My mother was excited for me to be able to experience first hand one of the Orthodox religion’s most important events.

On Good Friday, we went to the church in the village we were staying in where everyone convened for a candle-lit procession through the streets. At the front of the walk, several people were carrying a casket symbolizing Jesus’ death and we all followed as residents stood in the doorways of their homes sprinkling holy water on us as we walked by. We walked for a half hour through the village as a priest recited prayers and hymns were sung. Everyone was quiet for the most part except for the singing and the noise of people’s feet crunching the gravel below. Whenever my candle blew out, there was always someone next to me to relight it.

Once we arrived back at the church, the casket was placed inside and the huge congregation that had assembled, walked into the church in single file up to the casket to touch it, take some flowers surrounding the casket, and to walk under it to pay their respects to Jesus. The inside of the church was a contrast from the dark funeral procession through the streets. It was all blues, pinks, purples, greens, and golds and people were chatting away. I was in awe the whole night of the community’s loyalty and passion.

The next night, Easter Eve, the whole town of Chania gathered at a bigger church in the town’s center down by the harbor waiting for a flame that came all the way from Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem to be lit inside the church. The flame was escorted into the town and into the church by a military troop and once the candle inside the church was lit, it was passed from person to person through the whole crowd until everyone’s candles were aglow. We walked from the church to Karen’s shop and marked a cross at the top of the doorway with the smoke from the flame to serve as a form of protection for the coming year. We walked back through the deserted and dark streets glimpsing bobbing flames from passerby.

Chania's main church
Chania’s main church

Easter Day arrived and we were ready to eat meat that we had abstained from all week as an act of solidarity with Jesus and all he had to sacrifice in his death. Our main dish was a baby goat that was killed in the village for us. Even though it was a baby goat that I truly felt sorry for, I’m not one to shy away from trying something new. It was delicious and we had chicken sausage, spinach pies, salad, tzatziki, and bread to fill the rest of the table. It was a home-cooked meal that my friends and I had not had in eight months which made it taste even better.

Table set for Easter dinner
Table set for Easter dinner

Joining us for dinner were Karen’s friends, a couple from England, and her gardener Clyde who was from the South in the States. It was a diverse group and as we shared a dessert of chocolate torte, chocolates, and champagne I looked around the room and thought how amazing it was that Karen brought all of these people together and we were all enjoying each other’s company. Months ago I didn’t expect that I would be sitting at the table I was sitting at with a great group of people celebrating a religion unknown to me but sometimes you can get that lucky while on the road.

Have you ever been at the right place at the right time to experience an event special to a country?


12 thoughts on “Right Time, Right Place: Greek Orthodox Easter in Chania, Crete

  1. What great timing! I’m sure that’s an Easter you’ll never forget. While I don’t have anything with quite that epic of timing, I did wander into the final stage of the Tour de France in Paris. I was enjoying my last Sunday in the city, and noticed a large crowd forming around Tuileries. I decided to check it out and learned that it was the Tour de France, which had somehow completely slipped my mind. While I ended up having to wait a few hours to actually see the action–and it wasn’t ALL that much action–it was a cool thing to be a part of.
    For future good timing, I’ll be in Nice in May–just 30 minutes away from the Cannes Film Festival! I’m hoping to spend a day in Cannes and spot some celebrities 🙂
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Pack lightly, and carry a credit card =-.

    1. Hi Christine! You’re right, every Easter that comes now I always think of my Easter in Chania. The Tour de France must’ve been amazing. I would love to go to the Cannes Film Festival or just sit at a cafe and people watch with all the crowds. I can’t wait to read your blog about your trip there. I loved your post on Twenty-Something Travel and I’m going to go read more of your posts. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Hi Joya! This is such an interesting story. I especially love the part about the flame brought all the way from Jesus’ tomb. That is really special!

    1. Hi Sabina! It was pretty nice how the flame lit one candle to another in the crowd like a ripple effect. It was beautiful experiencing it a midnight too.

  3. Hey Joya,
    Many of my greatest experiences have been from unplanned and sometimes spontaneous adventures. Sounds like you had a great experience. The flame all the way from Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem must have been pretty meaningful. Glad you got to eat that baby goat, I’m sure it was delicious!

    1. Hi Mark, it was a great experience and I always remember it now around Easter time. Baby goat was good! There’s a first for everything but it tastes similar to lamb. What kind of experience like this have you had? Thanks for visiting my blog!

  4. Nice post on one of the religious traditions in Crete! I want to go to Crete this summer and you have just made me want to go even more. I definitely experienced this same festival/religious holiday effect in Sicily. Santa Lucia Day, the patron saint of Sicily,occurs in December in Ortigia. Townspeople and those from all around Sicily crowd in the main piazza as a silver statue to the saint is paraded through town. I watched from my balcony as fireworks resounded off the harbor and devotion lay right below me. I remember thinking to myself how rich religious traditions are away from home. I have a feeling that was what you experienced, the rarity that this event could only be experienced once in a lifetime.
    .-= Suzy´s last blog ..Suzy Stumbles Over Travel: Week of April 5, 2010 =-.

    1. Thanks Suzy! You definitely should go to Crete. It is so beautiful there. I read about Santa Lucia Day in Frances Mayes book and it sounded amazing. I can imagine standing on the balcony watching it all would be even better. I definitely agree that it’s a once in a lifetime experience. It’s like you are let in on a secret or something that nobody back home knows about. It makes it all the more special.

    1. Hi Jason, New Year’s Eve in another country is a lot of fun but why did they burn live-size dolls? I’ve never heard of something like this. Ecuador is on my bucket list no matter. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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