We are in the heart of summer in Crete and at last there is a feeling of euphoria despite the economic situation of the country. The beautiful heat of the summer that admittedly came late this season brings warmth in the daily routines of the people. There is nothing more pleasing than walking around the island and get confused from the thunderous noise of the cicadas. A noise that assures that summer is here for good and nature needs to sing. A music that it is impossible to imagine summer without. In Crete at least. This melody also signifies that we are in a period where grapes are starting to mature.
The 6th of August in particular is a date that holds a specific significance in the culinary traditions of the island. On this day the Orthodox Church celebrates the Transfiguration of Christ. In other words there is the celebration of the apocalypses of Christ to his disciples that He is the son of God. This celebration holds a significant importance for two main reasons. First it falls right in the middle of the “Small Easter” in Crete, which is a term used for the 15 day lent period starting from the 1st of August and ending with the Assumption of Mary. Because of the importance of this celebration the Orthodox Church allows the consumption of fish which is normally forbidden during fasting. Thus traditional Cretan recipes use ingredients that highlight fresh fish. Okra with fish such as sea bream or sea bass, haddock with tomatoes in the oven, anchovies marinated with parsley, onion, olive oil and vinegar are only a few examples.This is one of these special days where people meet on the street and wish blessings to each other for happy and prosperous years to come.
The second important reason the 6th of August holds a significant role for the people of the island is that today the first bunches of grapes are cut. In the morning mass farmers bring a few of their grape production in church. The priests gather them in front of them in big baskets and after a few blessing wishes they are offered to the attendees. Once the mass is over the priests go together with the farmers in the vineyards where a blessing takes bless with holy water. Once the ceremonial rituals are finished the farmers can start with the years harvest if the the grapes are mature enough.
There is a large number of villages in Crete that have churches dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ out of which a very large number have Christ as the protector of their village or city. To be completely honest i am trying very hard not to think of at least a section of a church in a Cretan village that is not dedicated to Christ. One of the most characteristic sites that celebrates the “day of Christ” as the locals call it is the mountain of Youchtas or Giouhtas. A place of former worship towards Zeus today celebrates the Orthodox King of Heavens and thousands of believers go to the 800 meters tall mountain top in order to pay their respects. On the night before the walking trails that lead to the top and the church look like snake bodies made of light due to the lightening devices people hold in order not to loose their path.
Religious beliefs walk hand in hand with the culinary culture of Cretans. The 6th of August is one of these days that highlight the relationship between the natural and the divine. A visit in any of the rural villages will pay out your time and effort. Besides the cicadas will bring you a sense of euphoria anyway. If you decide to visit any of the Cretan villages in the evening the music of the cicadas will change into the Cretan folklore music that will perk the village squares.