Easter in Cyprus
Easter in Cyprus
Easter is celebrated throughout the Republic of Cyprus and is considered to be the most important religious holiday of the year. Unlike other holidays, Easter is not on a set date every year, and this is set according to the Orthodox Calendar which places the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs at the spring equinox as Easter Sunday. Although there are church services for the whole week before Easter, public holidays are observed on Good Friday and Easter Monday. In days gone by most of the Orthodox population would fast for up to 50 days before Easter. Nowadays most families are known to fast for a week by not consuming any meat or dairy products before the Easter Sunday celebrations. The holy week usually sees most household preparing the traditional ‘flaounes’ which are unique to Cyprus. These are delicious bread pastries filled with an aromatic mix of cheese and mint which are sometimes baked in traditional outdoor wood ovens. The preferred sweet pastries are ‘tsourekia’, a rich leavened pastry which is formed into a plaited loaf and sprinkled with slithered almonds and baked until golden. Another tradition is the painting of boiled eggs in red which symbolises the blood of Christ. These are made during the week and eaten on Easter Sunday after a competition to see who has chosen the strongest egg.
Easter is a great time of the year to visit Cyprus. Spring is in the air and taking a drive around the island, you will see meadows of vibrant spring blossoms and flowers. The weather is usually very pleasant and it is great to see the excitement of the Cypriot population leading up to Easter Sunday. Church services are carried on daily during holy week and each night symbolizes the long walk and the crucifixion of Christ culminating with the resurrection on Saturday after midnight. On Holy Thursday the liturgy is held in remembrance of the Last Supper and housewives across the island start the preparation of cross shaped plaited sweet breads with a red egg placed in the middle. The service re-enacts the crucifixion of Christ and chants are heard from the twelve Gospels. Holy Friday is one of the most beautiful services with spring flowers decorating the Holy Sepulchre and the sombre service which sees a procession of people walking around the neighbourhood, following the priests which lead the service. This is called the ‘Epitafios’ and is celebrated the same way by all Orthodox followers all over the world. Saturday morning is a very important service as those who have fasted will queue up at the church to receive Holy Communion and take a flower from the Holy Sepulchre. Saturday night culminates at midnight where there is a special mass celebrating the resurrection of Christ. Big fires are lit in the church yard symbolizing the burning of an effigy of Judas. During this midnight mass at exactly 12pm, the lights go off and a light which illuminates the candles held by the faithful symbolizing the resurrection. It is not unusual to see people taking their lit candles home as this is considered to be the Holy Light.
This is a very exciting service especially for the children. After the mass, families usually go home to a plate of ‘avgolemono’ soup which is a lemon and egg soup considered to be a light meal for breaking of the fast. Red eggs are cracked with the chanting of ‘Christos Anesti’ which means Christ has risen. After a late night, everyone is preparing for the Easter Sunday feast. You will find people in picnic spots all around the island barbequing whole lamb and having a feast with family and friends. Lots of alcohol is consumed and it is not unusual to have people literally ill from overconsumption. Traditional songs and dances are common and a wonderful time is had by all who are present. The best celebrations are held in the villages and small communities around the island. In these locations it sometimes seems that time has stood still. Traditions are strictly adhered to and traditional dances and games are usually held in the town square. Cypriots are very hospitable people and it is not unusual for visitors to the island to be invited to take part in these festivities.