Custom traditions

Mantinades in Crete

Mantinades (plural of mantinada) are the most common form of folk song and are widespread across Crete. The Cretan mantinada is a 15-syllable rhyming couplet in Cretan dialect. Each mantinada is complete in itself in spite of its short length, like a limerick. There are however some mantinades used to answer others, in which case their meaning is complementary. The mantinada is the unique way in which young and old in Crete can express their many and varied emotions: sorrow, joy, hope, desire, love, anger, revenge, nostalgia.

Thousands of mantinades have been composed and are still being improvised on every facet of human life. Most are to do with love and romance, but there are also satiric, didactic, teasing couplets or verses on exile, engagement, marriage, everyday life and of course death and losing loved ones.

Cretan dances


There are especially 5 dances, that each have a local character. These are found in most parts of Crete. Pediktos and Siganos originate from the area of Iraklion, Pentozalis and Sousta from Rethimnon and Sitos Haniotiko from Hania. The dances are mostly into 2/4 beat.

The Pitcher Of Fortune


The “Stamna tou Klidona”, or “Pitcher of Fortune”, is a fortune-telling rite for teenagers of both sexes. Boys and girls gather round one of the village wells and secretly carve the name of their true love on pieces of fruit.

The fruit is placed in a pitcher which is then sealed and lowered into the well, where it will remain all night long in the “voiceless water”. Next day, the young people gather again and read out the names on the fruit one by one.

As the group knows more or less who’s secretly attracted to whom, the wittiest make up teasing romantic couplets on the spot concerning the presumed couple, but without naming names. The whole process is an opportunity for fun, teasing and innuendo.


Carnival is celebrated in strictly traditional Crete as in all countries that preserve this ancient ritual of disguise, which allows public indulgence in sexual taboos in an excessive and satirical form. Absolutely all Cretan villages take part in the carnival with spontaneous disguises and visits to houses, where people have to welcome the masqueraders. The latter don’t speak so as not to be recognised by their voices and engage in various lewd pantomimes, but never harm their hosts.

They demand titbits, sweets and wine with grunts and gestures. Apart from the “domestic” carnival, there is also the “general” village celebration in which everyone takes part. In many cases this is regulated by a form of ritual unique to Crete, whose origins remain unknown. There are also innovations to the form and composition of the carnival, but these are ephemeral.



The tradition of carrying amulets against any form of evil is universal. The little portable talisman of metal or cloth contains various sacred or symbolic remains. It may also be a single object, such as the “constantinato”, a Byzantine curved copper coin (11th-13th century) depicting the Emperor being crowned by the Virgin.

According to folk belief, this is the Emperor Constantine and his wife Helen, who founded the Byzantine Empire and still protect their people.