If you wish to enjoy your Christmas Holidays in a peaceful and safe paradise of Venetian architecture, next to a long sandy coastline perfect for walks with cozy restaurants and picturesque villages, then, Rethymno is for you!
The weather: Rethymno is an ideal choice for a sunny break filled with cultural history and fun. While it may not be warm enough for swimming in the winter, the mild temperatures are perfect for taking part in all sorts of other activities, while hotel prices are at their lowest. During winter, it hardly rains and temperatures rarely drop below 15 °C, making it very pleasant to be outside all day long strolling around the sunny streets of Rethymno or exploring the impressive countryside..
Christmas decorations: Store windows are fully decorated almost a month in advance, while seasonal decor at Rethymno’s historic center transforms the city in order to bring joy to families and children that choose Rethymno for their Christmas Holidays. Colorful lamps, toys, Christmas activities, and melodies flood the city.
Apart from the “European” Christmas tree, many houses, shops, offices or businesses decorate the traditional Greek karavaki, a (usually) handmade wooden boat adorned with lights and ornaments and a symbol of the strong ties between Greeks and the sea. Sometimes, coins or golden objects are placed inside the boat as they symbolize a household’s wealth.
Christmas gastronomy tradition: Christmas celebration lasts for thirteen days, from Christmas Eve until Epiphany, January 6th. Baking, as in most cultures, is an important part of Cretan cooking for Christmas and sweets are especially traditional. The honey-dipped spice cookies (melomakarona), the sugared almond cookies (kourabiedes) and the traditional Cretan diples (light and crispy fried dough topped with walnuts and honey syrup), and kalitsounia (sweet cheese pastries) are shared between friends, family, and visitors while the wonderful baking smells fill the houses.
The traditional Cretan Christmas Day feast is centered on pork meat (and not on turkey), following the old Cretan custom for each family in the village to raise a pig, or "hog", which would be slaughtered on Christmas Eve and served as the main holiday dish the next day, while, on the second day of Christmas, the villagers would cut up the pork meat and make sausages, apakia (smoked meat), siglina (smoked pork put in large containers and covered with melted fat), omathies (pig intestines stuffed with rice, raisins and chopped liver) and tsigarides (fat pieces cooked with spices and eaten with bread).
Christopsomo (Christ’s bread) is also a traditional sweet large bread, molded in various shapes, flavored with aromas such as anise, mastic, nutmeg, wine or brandy and decorated with a cross on top. It is eaten on Christmas Eve and it has to be cut by hand and not by a knife.
On New Year’s Eve, the Vasilopita (St. Basil’s pie) is served in all houses. It is a special cake for the New Year where a coin (flouri) is hidden and, as it is sliced, we name each slice after everyone in the family and friends. Whoever is lucky enough to find the coin in their slice has a very lucky year.
Pomegranates, the bright red fruit indigenous to the Mediterranean, have also been a symbol of prosperity since the days of the ancient Greeks. It is a tradition to “break a pomegranate” on New Year’s Eve and they are also used in festive decorations.
What to do in Rethymno
- Enjoy the atmosphere of the fully decorated city, have a coffee or a hot drink in the cozy cafes that are spread out all over the historic center and the coastal road of El. Venizelou, attend live music concerts, clubs, cozy bars that serve excellent cocktails, theme parties and rakadika that offer mezedes and live music.
- Shop gifts for your loved ones in the picturesque streets of Old Town or the mainstream shops in the charming Christmas Market in Arkadiou St. All shops have an extended schedule for the Christmas Days and they even offer sweets and hot drinks for the customers and all the visitors in the streets.
- Enjoy kalanda (Christmas Carol) performed by the Band of the Municipality of Rethymno on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and Epiphany’s Eve. You will also meet many children in the streets these three days, as they go door to door singing, often carrying triangles and other instruments, such as drums, to accompany singing. They are often given small amounts of money or Christmas sweets for caroling.
- Enjoy the Cretan Cuisine in all its majesty! At Christmas, all shops from large supermarkets to small local groceries are full of festive foods like smoked meat, exceptional cheese, traditional sweets, and Cretan wine. The earthly winter Cretan Cuisine mainly consists of wild greens, mountain bulbs, snails, vegetables and fruits, lamb, aromatic herbs and the famous Cretan olive oil. Try some of the best flavors of your life in the numerous restaurants of the city and discover the precious local red and white wine varieties in order to have a complete gastronomic experience of Rethymno, the European Wine City of 2018 as declared by RECEVIN, the European Network of Wine Cities.
- Organize a trip to Rethymno's hinterland, with endless options of excursions and day visits to many picturesque villages and you will experience the authentic Cretan hospitality that is offered to visitors all year round.
Don’t forget to:
Make your reservation in one of the city’s Boutique Hotels, which are beautifully decorated and offer all the modern facilities for moments of rest and fun. Check them out for special deals and special themed packages!
- Explore the city by bike! The dockless bike share is available so, choose your bike and stroll down the 12km bike paths that guarantee the safety of cyclists and pedestrians.
- Visit the tourist information kiosk, located at the entrance of the Old Port which will be on hand to provide all visitors with Christmas information (and inspiration!) and make your visit unforgettable.
- Stay tuned on www.rethymno.guide for all the upcoming Christmas (and more!) events.