Christmas in Cyprus
Christmas in Cyprus
The Republic of Cyprus is predominantly Greek Orthodox and they celebrate the birth of Christ on the 25th December like all Christians around the world. The Russian Orthodox, who take their calendar from the Julian calendar celebrate on the 6th January. Although most Cypriots are very traditional, they have not remained untouched by the commercial side of Christmas and this is evident in stores and in all walks of lives. Traditionally gifts are exchanged on the 1st of January which is the feast day of Agios Vasilios, or St Vasilios. A Christmas tree is usually erected in homes at the beginning of December and only taken down after the Epiphany on the 6th January. The streets in all large cities are decorated with Christmas lights and there are many events planned around the holidays which include carol singing and other celebrations. For those who prefer to be in a winter wonderland, the Troodos Mountains have magical accommodation in hotels and agro tourism cottages that you can rent and enjoy the festivities in the snow covered areas of Platres, Pedhoulas, Agros and Kalopanayiotis. You can spend the days skiing and enjoying winter sports and the nights around a fireplace taking in the delicious authentic Cypriot cuisine.
When it comes to food the Cypriots have their traditional treats that are made on specific holidays. Christmas is no different and in most Cypriot homes you will find kourabiedes which are shortbread cookies covered in icing sugar, usually filled with toasted almonds. Melomakarouna are also prominent and they are honey glazed cookies with all the usual aromas of Christmas which include cinnamon and cloves. Most homes are very busy over this period in preparation of the meal that will be enjoyed by family and friends on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. In recent years Cypriots have also been making their own version of a Christmas cake. This is very similar to the traditional cake made all over the world but it includes spoon sweets which are homemade preserved fruits.
The Cypriots are generally great meat eaters and it is not unusual to have lamb on the spit, or souvla which is pork or lamb cooked over charcoal, as their main meal. This job is usually undertaken by the men in the house while the women make the accompaniment which will include pastitchio, which is pasta with mince, cheese and a béchamel sauce, beautiful roast potatoes, various dips and salads. In the villages which are often more traditional, a special bread called ‘chrisopsomo’ is made. This is a village bread with a sign of the cross and a special stamp with a religious message. Bear in mind that the more religious citizens will fast for 40 days before Christmas not eating any meat or dairy products. They in particular will enjoy the breaking of the fast with all the delicious food that is prepared for Christmas dinner and lunch. In some villages the tradition of slaying a pig and making cured meats and sausages before the holidays is still practiced. The pig is bought in spring on Palm Sunday and reared until winter. No part of the pig is wasted and there are many delicacies like ‘lountza’ which is cured pork loins in wine and coriander, and very tasty sausages that are prepared for the winter season.
Homes around the island are decorated with Poinsettias which are considered to be the symbol of Christmas. Some homes will even have an olive of basil branch wrapped around a cross and sprinkled with holy water in order to ward of the evil spirits. There is an ancient saying that the sprite ‘Kallikantzaros’ preys on people during the period of Christmas Eve until the Epiphany on the 6th January. There are many traditions that are practiced all around the island. One of them is stepping into the house on New Year’s Day with the right foot first so that you will have good luck in the New Year. As mentioned, in most homes around the country, gifts are exchanged on the 1st of January and the Epiphany which is celebrated on the 6th January will see grandchildren visiting their grandparents and reading traditional verses expecting gifts of money in return.
New Year’s Day is celebrated like anywhere else in the world with gatherings in the town squares or attending lavish celebrations at home or in venues across the island. As the gifts are given on New Year’s Day, a glass of wine and a candle are left near the Christmas tree for St. Vasilis to enjoy before leaving the gifts for the children. A special orange flavored cake is baked which is called a ‘vasilopita’. This cake will contain a coin which is carefully hidden. The cake is cut in exactly the amount of pieces for each member of the family and whoever finds this coin is considered to have good fortune in the New Year.
Many events are planned around the festive season and if you would like to participate you can check the schedule for all towns on: