It is customary for Cypriots to welcome you into their homes with a ‘Kolosorisate’ welcome, and ‘Kopiaste’ please come and join us. The introductions and a handshake are standard, and the kiss on both cheeks is to, except for men greeting other men. Once you enter a Cypriot home you will be offered ‘glyko’ preserved fruit with a cold glass of water, and Greek coffee. It is considered rude to refuse and even if you do not like what is offered at least try and eat some of it.
With such a long and varied history, there are many customs that have been passed down from generation to generation. Even though we live in modern times, many of these customs are still practiced today. Let’s take one of the most important events, after the birth of a child, which is THE wedding.
Many of the customs practiced are very similar between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The main differences are due to the Christian and Muslim religions. Many weddings were arranged marriages, especially in the old days. This is called ‘proxenia’ in Greek and ‘dunurcu’ in Turkish. The parents would make an agreement of what dowry the bride would give the groom and this was actually written down in a formal agreement, this would consist of property, sheep or other items and expenses for the wedding.
Weddings are steeped with customs, starting with the ceremonious shaving of the groom which takes place with a violinist and traditional Cypriot songs, and this also happens when the bride is getting dressed. Weddings are very emotional and happy occasions. In the villages they still practice the ‘dancing of the bed’ which is all done to specific songs, ribbons are sewn on each corner of the mattress, and the guests throw silver coins on the bed. A baby is then placed on the bed for good measure, all this is done to promote fertility and is a blessing for the couple to have many children. Once the bride is dressed all her relatives will use a red sash which they wrap around the waist, three times, all this is done to music from the violinists. The single ladies write their names under the bride’s shoes and also receive almond sweets with a red ribbon which they will place under their pillow so they can dream of their future husband. The church ceremony also has some colourful customs, at a specific point when the priest says ‘the woman shall fear her man’ the bride will do her utmost to step on his foot. All this is done with a lot of pomp and ceremony. Cypriot weddings are a huge affair, and it is not uncommon to invite thousands of people. It is not customary to buy gifts, most people will give cash in an envelope and in some cases thousands are collected to help the couple start their new life together.
The birth of a child is considered a big blessing. This event also comes with a few customs that are still followed today. The Cypriots believe strongly in the ‘evil eye’ and you will find that the blue eyed stones are fastened to the babies clothing to ward off the evil eye. It is considered that people that are envious could unwittingly cause bad luck for the baby. The new mother is also supposed to be confined to the home for 40 days after the birth, but in these modern times this very seldom happens. Some believe that when a baby smiles in her sleep she is blessed by ‘Panayia’ the Virgin Mary. The Greek Cypriots believe it is bad luck to cut the baby’s nail in the first 6 months.
The death of a loved one is another event that has specific customs that are followed to this day. Funerals take place very quickly in Cyprus, sometimes even on the same day. If someone passes away before nightfall, it is customary for the family to sit with the body the whole night lamenting. When there is time a priest is always called to read the last rites. It is always amazing to see how many people attend funerals in Cyprus, especially with such short notice. It is considered a mark of respect to honor the dead and support the family. It is not uncommon for the wife or daughters of the deceased to wear all black for years, this too is considered a mark of respect. Yearly memorial services are held for the deceased which involves making ‘kolifa’ which is crushed wheat with sugar cinnamon and sesame seeds. This is taken to the church to be blessed with bread, wine and olive oil. The Kolifa are then distributed after the church service to all present.
Important milestones in one’s life are when most customs are performed, there are also many customs that are still practiced with religious holidays and festivals. There are so many customs, for instance, Cypriots believe that Tuesday the 13th is unlucky not Friday. Another trait with the Cypriots is that they are never on time, you can expect to be kept waiting, this is normal! You will also find that generally the Cypriots speak very loudly with a lot of hand gestures, this is also normal and they are definitely not having a fight!