Contemporary Cretan society was strongly affected by Greece’s entry in the EU in 1981 and the intervening years have brought modernisation to all facets of daily life. However, the two main characteristics of the people of the island remain unchanged by time or outside influences. The first of these is their love of freedom and independence: they are Cretans first, then Greeks. The other is their renowned hospitality to strangers. It takes many forms: a small carafe of raki offered by the owner of a taverna, an invitation to a Cretan home for a lavish meal, neighbours bringing you home-grown fruit and vegetables or fresh eggs from their hens.
While the younger generation here is well-educated and fairly independent, time-honoured customs and traditions are still observed by Cretans of all ages. The family remains at the centre of Cretan society and much of the culture revolves around the church: 97% of the population are Greek Orthodox. Religious holidays are faithfully observed (the most important are designated as national holidays) and they are celebrated with festivities that have remained unchanged for centuries.
The influence of tourism, mostly along the north coast of Crete, has brought a certain level of sophistication to the cities and larger towns. This is where you will find banks, supermarkets, home furnishing centres and a full range of modern conveniences. In many of the villages, however, life still retains its old rhythms. There people are primarily involved farming and raising livestock. For the most part, the men socialise in the kafenions or coffee houses while women sit, singly or with a few friends, in their courtyards or just outside the front door of their houses, chatting companionably while their hands are kept busy with traditional needlework and crocheting.
The distinctive music of Crete and the traditional dances that accompany them continue to play a significant role in Cretan society. You will see them performed at all important social events, such as weddings and baptisms, where everyone from 7 – 70 knows the intricate steps.
Crete’s distinctive society has produced a culture that remains unique, not only within Europe, but even within Greece.
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