It’s our favourite time of the year here in Cyprus this weekend – Greek Orthodox Easter! Easter in Cyprus is the most celebrated occasion of the year – trust us, it’s a big deal! You can’t beat the atmosphere of Easter Sunday, especially in the villages; the smell of souvla wafting around the village, the sound of the traditional music as the locals sing and dance along, the games in the village square, the cheer from the children running excitedly around, the sound of ‘Christos Anesti’ and ‘Yiamas’ being greeted from one smiling face to another…even the sound of the firecrackers (which also cause the occasional fright!) add to the buzz.
In the lead up to Easter it is traditional to have your house looking completely fresh and new so it will be properly spring cleaned, sometimes even painted, and most people will treat themselves to new clothes (especially shoes).
Holy Thursday (an optional public holiday) is a busy day in most houses; the women will prepare traditional Easter foods such as flaounes (delicious! – a kind of cheese cake with a cheese, egg and mint filling) and tyropittes. Hard boiled eggs are also colour dyed, mostly red, in preparation for Easter Sunday – it is traditional to bash eggs on the day, and whoever has the least cracked egg is said to receive luck.
Good Friday (public holiday) is mostly dedicated to the decoration of the ‘Epitafios’, a flowery decoration in the church in which the icon of Christ is normally laid. A traditional soup containing vinegar is normally eaten at lunch time, and then an evening church service will follow which then includes a solemn procession headed by the priest with the ‘epitafios’ lit up, and carried by young men, followed by the choir singing hymns and the congregation – usually with sparklers in hand. The procession goes around the parish boundaries and back to the church.
Saturday is a quiet day, usually with a church service in morning, but the highlight being the ‘ceremony of the resurrection’ service which starts at 11pm, for which you will hear church bells ringing beforehand. A few minutes before midnight the lights in the church are turned out and the choir sings the story of the three women who arrived at Christ’s tomb only to find it empty. The lights are switched on again and the priest calls the congregation to “take from his candle the light which never dies.” The flame is passed from person to person until everyone is holding a lit candle. The ceremony then continues outside the church for approximately 30 minutes, after which the priest returns inside again to begin the special Sunday liturgy for another two and a half to three hours. Most people will then leave to start the Easter Sunday celebrations, which kick off with a bonfire in the church grounds, fireworks in the village and many locals will go home to eat traditional soup. This is also when the firecrackers tend to peak!
Easter Sunday is a day of rejoicing – the fast is broken so food (especially meat) is eaten in mass, wine flows freely, games are played, eggs are cracked, people dance, people sing, and people are merry! These celebrations tend to go on until Tuesday, and you will hear many greetings of ‘Christos Anesti’ (Christ has risen) met by ‘Alithos Anesti’ (indeed he has risen). Another lovely tradition on Easter Sunday is that the priest will stand at the church door with the Cross and everyone leaving kisses the Cross, then shakes-and takes the hand of the person in front, thus forming a large circle in the church yard which symbolizes the renewal of friendship with one another. After this, all friends and relations, but especially people from other towns or villages, are invited to the villagers’ homes where they sit down together, eating and drinking until late in the afternoon.
If you’re lucky enough to be spending the Orthodox Easter in Cyprus then we urge you not to miss the local celebrations. Neighbouring Pissouri Village is a wonderful place to soak up the Easter atmosphere.
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