Orthodox Easter, March or April
Iraklio Summer Festival, July to mid-September
Independence Day, March
Assumption Day, August
Winter is the time when Cretans have the island pretty much to themselves. Views of the snow-capped mountains are tremendous, but cold and windy weather makes this a good month for museums and churches.
New Year’s (Feast of St Basil)
A day of gift-giving, singing, dancing, feasting and the slicing of the vasilopita (golden glazed cake). The person who gets the piece of cake with the hidden coin is promised a lucky year.
The day of Christ’s baptism by St John, 6 January, is celebrated by seas, lakes and rivers being blessed by a priest, who then tosses a cross into the water. The brave soul who retrieves it can expect a year of good luck.
It’s not as sweltering as Rio, but Cretan Carnival is still a good excuse for a big party. Blossoming almond trees hint at impending springtime. Stock up on the freshly pressed crop of olive oil.
Pre-Lent is celebrated with three weeks of dancing, masquerade balls, games and treasure hunts, culminating in a grand street parade on the last Sunday. The biggest party is in Rethymno.
Clean Monday (Shrove Monday)
On the first day of Lent (referred to as Kathara Deftera or Clean Monday), people take to the hills throughout Greece to enjoy picnicking and kite-flying.
Winter will soon be a distant memory as days get longer and sunny days more frequent. No swimming yet, but a great chance to see the sights without the crowds.
It’s a double whammy on 25 March: military parades and dancing commemorate the beginning of the 1821 War of Independence, while the Feast of the Annunciation celebrates the day when Mary discovered she was pregnant.
A painter’s palette of wildflowers blankets the island as locals prepare for the big Easter feast, which gives you a chance to experience Cretan hospitality at its finest.
The most important religious holiday in Greece. Endeavour to attend some of the Orthodox Easter services, including a candlelit procession on Good Friday evening and fireworks at midnight on Easter Saturday. On Sunday, feast on roast lamb. It’s often not the same date as Catholic Easter.
Feast of Agios Giorgios
St George, the patron saint of shepherds, is honoured in many rural communities (especially Agios Giorgios on the Lasithi Plateau) with music, sheep shearing, wine and food on 23 April.
Sunny weather and moderate temperatures make May the perfect month for walking, cycling and island explorations. The countryside is redolent with thyme, sage and other aromatic herbs.
There’s a mass exodus to the countryside on 1 May. During picnic excursions, wildflowers are gathered and made into wreaths to decorate houses and cars. Since this is also International Labour Day, the bigger cities stage demonstrations.
Battle of Crete Anniversary
This epic WWII battle and the Cretan resistance are commemorated during the last week of May with ceremonies, re-enactments, athletic events and folk dancing. The biggest celebrations take place in Hania and Rethymno.
The start of summer, and time to head for the beaches before they get crowded. Gourmands rejoice in the bounty of fresh, local produce in the markets.
Navy Week honours Crete’s relationship with the sea, with music, dancing, swimming and sailing. Held in late June, celebrations are especially big in Souda, near Hania.
Peak season starts, so you’d better be the gregarious type. Definitely prebook if you’re coast-bound or else escape the heat by heading for the hills and traditional villages. Strong winds are common.
Rethymno Renaissance Festival
Top international talent descends upon Rethymno on the northern coast for this two-week festival of theatre, dance and music from the Renaissance period.
Iraklio Summer Festival
Renowned local and international performers (from the Bolshoi Ballet to the Vienna State Opera) come to this high-calibre festival of dance, music, theatre and cinema, held from July to mid-September.
From early July to mid-August, this cultural festival with dancing, music, theatre and sports events erupts throughout Sitia in the far east.
It’s hot, hot, hot! The height of the festival season spills over from July, with the sea at its balmiest and markets jam-packed with ripe melons, figs, peaches and cherries. It’s still windy.
The day Mary ascended to heaven, 15 August, is a major celebration that sees everyone on the move back to their villages for family reunions. Expect curtailed services and heavy traffic.
The sun is high, though less and less blazing, as peak season wanes and the crowds begin to thin on beaches and at the big sights. Fresh figs are in season.
Autumn is a fabulous time weather-wise, with warm seas and few crowds. Winds die down and the harvest of sun-plump grapes kicks into high gear. A good time for exploring Crete’s natural beauty on foot.
A simple ‘no’ (ohi in Greek) was Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas’ famous response when Mussolini demanded free passage through Greece for his troops on 28 October 1940. The date is now a national holiday with remembrance services, parades, feasting and dance.
Tourist resorts all but close in early November as the weather gets cooler and more unpredictable. The air is clear and mountains start receiving a dusting of snow. In the villages, the raki distilling season peaks.
Moni Arkadiou Anniversary
Patriotism kicks into high gear from 7 to 9 November during the anniversary of the explosion at Moni Arkadiou, a key holiday unique to Crete.
Days are short and quite cold, making this month a good time for indoor activities. Bring an umbrella or a rain jacket. The mountains receive their first sprinkling of snow.
Although not as important as Easter, Christmas is still celebrated with religious services and feasting. Western European influences include trees, decorations and gift-giving.