Easter is the greatest celebration of the year in Cyprus and here is why!
This week-long feast unites all aspects of honouring this time of the year. Easter is a combination of spiritual honouring, family, customs, traditions, a celebration of light and nature. Depending on the lunar month, it falls on the first Sunday after the first spring full moon after the spring equinox, therefore, dates of Easter change every year. Orthodox Easter can occur anywhere from mid-April to early May.
The Holy Week starts with the Holy Monday ending on Easter Sunday. If you are planning to visit Cyprus during Easter time, check for the public holidays during this period.
According to the Old Testament, the meaning behind this holiday was different. It was a celebration (the Passover) of the liberation of Jews from slavery in Egypt that involved a ritual slaughter of a lamb. Over time traditions have changed. Nowadays, Easter in Christian tradition is a celebration of Christ's resurrection and the victory of light over darkness, spring over winter and life over death.
The calculation method of Easter differs between Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. The dates of the Greek Orthodox Easter are based on Julian Calendar, whereas the Western Churches use Gregorian Calendar.
The Great Lent
Easter is a highly important celebration in Cyprus, therefore the preparation for the celebration starts 50 days before the actual holiday. It starts with Clean Monday (Green Monday) which is the first day of the Great Lent. This day is usually spent with family and often locals also spend the day flying kites. During the Great Lent Christians exclude meat, fish and dairy from their daily meals. A bigger variety of dishes with legumes and veggies appear even on restaurant takeaway menus. Traditional bean or chickpea soup, lovely pumpkin, spinach or tahini pies are a wonderful replacement for meat products during this time and, we kid you not when we say, the variety of glorious vegetarian options seem to be endless!
The Holy Week
Now that the carnivals have finished, Lent is done, Easter is approaching! This is a very special week! There is something indescribable in the air - a buzz - a feeling that something good is on its way. Smells of traditional Cypriot food mix with the scent of orange blossoms and a certain excitement that can't be measured or touched but can be felt, even if you are not Christian by faith.
The next three days - on Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday and Holy Wednesday Services are held in local churches every morning and evening.
Holy Thursday is a busy day! The families gather from early morning to bake 'Flaounes' and dye eggs, clean their homes, also bake 'stavrokouloura' (cross-shaped buns). This day is also the day of crucifixion of Christ. People go to church this evening to mourn. The icons in churches are covered with black veils as a symbol of grief.
Holy Friday or 'Epitafios' is the day when churches are filled with flowers. Everyone brings flowers to the church to decorate the Holy Sepulchre or Epitafios. After the evening services, the procession starts. During the procession young men carry the Holy Sepulchre outside the church around the neighbourhood and back to the church. People follow the Epitafios throughout the whole process while church bells ring in a mourning tone. This is a very impressive procession to see.
On the Holy Saturday morning priest announces that Christ is no longer in his grave. This is when all the black veils drop, priests throw laurel leaves and myrtle, people bang the doors and seats and bells toll in a celebration and cheers: an Indescribable momentum! This will give you goosebumps!
The Resurrection mass takes place at midnight. The Midnight service is the most important event on the calendar. At midnight all the lights in the church are off - total darkness. The Priest comes in carrying a candle - the Holy Light that is brought straight from Jerusalem. Everyone lights up their candle and bring home their candle from the Holy Light to bring blessing to their homes.
On this night there is another tradition called 'Lambratzia'. This tradition involves symbolically 'burning Judas' in the Church yard. Children usually collect woods to set up a big burning spot. There are many fires all around Cyprus, fireworks and cheers just spread and take over the island.
After this saturated and bright midnight service families gather for a feast. The meal usually includes certain dishes like 'Avgolemono' soup, for example. This is the time when everyone is cracking the hard-boiled and dyed red eggs, saying 'Christos Anesti' (Christ has risen) and the response is: 'Alithos Anesti' (Indeed, He has risen).
Holy Sunday or 'Pascha'! This day is all about Family and friends gathered sharing food and celebrating! Be ready to deal with loads and loads of food. We are talking about the dyed eggs, flaounes, roast lamb, ‘souvla’, salads, cakes, sweets, wine and the whole variety of yumminess! This is a celebration and in Cyprus they know how to do it well! Yes, it will be loud, yes, it will be noisy and yes, it will be a proper celebration!
The Easter Monday
On this day villages and smaller communities are filled with families and children laughing. Traditional games and other entertainments are a big part of it. What is there not to enjoy?
If you happen to be in Cyprus during Easter, take the chance to experience the beauty of this spectacular celebration!