EASTER TRADITIONS IN CYPRUS
among the greatest religious feasts in the Orthodox Church.
The solemnity of the Holy Week, the week before Easter, in the Orthodox Church
ends with the commencement of Easter celebrations, where the Resurrection of
Jesus Christ is glorified
Easter is the
greatest holiday in the Orthodox Church. It is fixed according to the moon -
that is to say, it is always celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon of the
spring equinox. To celebrate Easter everything should look clean and new, so houses
are cleaned, painted or white-washed, and new clothes are a "must", especially new shoes.
Holy Week is dedicated to church-going and to baking, etc.
At seaside places preparations for Palm Sunday can be seen from the previous Friday.
In the coffee shops, fishermen sit and plait intricate "vaynes" ~ palm-leaf flower holders ~
which when finished, resemble little swallows' nests perched on sticks. The fishermen sell
these and the young children fill them with flowers and take them to church on Palm Sunday
when they follow the icon of Christ around the church in a procession commemorating
Christ's entry into Jerusalem. The older boys hold large palm leaves.
Olive leaves are put into pillow-case-like sacks which are taken to church; there they are
kept for forty days after which they can be used for incense burning.
From now on there are church services morning, afternoon and evening.
On Thursday most women do their Easter baking of "flaounes", a kind of cheese cake
found in Cyprus, made of shortcrust with a cheese, egg and mint filling,
formed into triangular and square shapes.
"Koulouria" are baked with milk, spices and a little sugar and "Tyropittes" ~ loaves
with small pieces of cheese added and rolled in sesame seeds.
Eggs are dyed as well. Traditionally they are dyed red with a special root called "rizari",
that is sold in bundles at the market during these days. They are also
dyed yellow; for this purpose the yellow marguerites that cover the waysides
and fields during April are used.
However, in the towns you can buy small packets of different colored dyes
from your grocer. Some dye their eggs in a more artistic way by tying the
marguerites onto the eggs with a piece of muslin before boiling them
in a color. The end product is most effective.
Good Friday begins with everyone taking flowers to church so that the
young girls can decorate the "Epitafios" ~ Holy Sepulchre. This, in our church,
is a four-postured litter with a canopy in which the icon of Christ
is laid in state. The whole structure is completely decorated with flowers,
a job that takes the greater part of Good Friday morning.
At lunchtime the traditional "Faki Xidati" - vinegar and lentil soup - is eaten,
containing vinegar because it is said that when Christ asked for water
on his way to Calgary He was given vinegar instead.
From early afternoon you will see streams of cars and pedestrians going
from church to church to pay their last respects to Christ - and to compare
the decoration of their own parish "Epitafios" with that of the others.
In the meantime, all the streets along which the "Epitafios" will pass in the solemn
procession later that night are being decorated with colored lights.
The procession starts after the evening service with the priests
preceding, then the Scouts or young men carrying the litter of Christ and then
the choir, singing hymns. The whole congregation follows, and children
light sparklers on the way. Fireworks are lit from the balconies
while the procession moves around its parish boundaries and
ends up at the church again.
Saturday is a quiet day,
although there is a sermon towards lunchtime
during which the church doors are banged and candleholders shaken, when the
news is brought that Christ is no longer in His grave.
The real sermon of resurrection is at about midnight. Everybody goes to
church with a candle and the sermon is held to the accompaniment
of fire-crackers. A big bonfire is lit in the church yard.
When the priest proclaims that "Christ has risen", all candles are lit and
everyone greets everyone else with "Christos anesti" ~Christ has risen,
to which the other answers "Alithos anesti" ~ Indeed He has risen.
On Sunday morning most people who have not taken Holy Communion
during the Holy Week take it now and afterwards they go home,
where red eggs are cracked, flaounes eaten and the fast broken.
The children go around cracking and winning colored eggs, for if
your egg cracks then you lose it and the child with the unbroken
egg gets it. At lunchtime picnics and family gatherings are held everywhere;
lamps are roasted on the spit and wine flows freely.
In the villages, Easter is an all-village affair apart from being a big holiday.
On such days after Mass, the priest stands 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.
In many villages it is also the custom on Easter Sunday and Monday
for everyone to have lunch in the church yard and each family
brings its food and wine and everybody eats at long tables
made out of stands and long wooden planks. After lunch there are
various games, dances and jokes. So all old quarrels
are forgotten. The young people celebrate by hanging up
"souses" - swings. For this purpose young men and girls hang ropes
from trees and while the girls swing, they al sing gay songs or love
songs, or teasing songs called "Tchatismata" -rhymes -
These rhymes are made up at every festive occasion and there are
even professionals who sing them. The characteristic of the "tchatismata"
is that someone get up and starts by opening the subject in
reciting praises for the host, something to tease a friend, or a love song
for a girl. If he can, the one who has been made the subject of the thyme,
gets up and replies by reciting his views on whatever has just been said.
More usually, however, there are two people singing the
"tchatismata" by making up the rhyme as they go along, one making up the first
few lines, the other the next few and so on.
Forty days after Easter, comes the Day of the Ascension which is considered such
a great holiday that it is said that "even the swallows do not build their nests" on that day.
It is a fasting day and one should not work at all, but spend the day
praying and meditating. Incense should be burnt in the houses seven times.
Fifty days after Easter comes "Kataklysmos" - the Day of the Holy Ghost.
In Cyprus it is celebrated by fairs held on the water fronts. This
celebration is said to have descended to us from the feasts in honour of
Aphrodite which were also held on the water fronts. To this day people go
to pay homage to the "holy water fronts", where water sports
are held and people go around in boats and even splash each other
just for the fun of it.
September 14th is the day of the Holy Cross. It commemorates the day
in the 4th century when St. Helena found the Holy Cross in Jerusalem,
a piece of which she bought and left in Cyprus whilst journeying back
to Byzantium. Although, during her stay here, St. Helena gave instructions for the
monastery of Stavrovouni - Cross of the Mountain - to be built, it is not there
but at Omodhos that a relic in a golden cross is kept and brought out for
adoration on this one special day every year. On the day before
the 14th people fast in order to be able to go to church next morning and
drink holy water called "drossos" - dew.
The 29th of September is St. John the Baptist's Day and people
in the villages cut their onions from the top in reverent memory of his
beheading. It is again a fasting day.
St. Andrew's Day (30th November) was also widely, celebrated with a big fair at
Apostolos Andreas' Monastery which is situated at the extreme tip of Cyprus on
the "panhandle", a description most fitting if you remember the outline of our Island
on the map if not click Hereto visit.
There are many other saints whose names we celebrate, including the Cypriot-born
St. Spyridon and St. Neophytos and St. Mamas. Most of them have a special fair at
a particular village.
Thus we come full circle around the year, fasting about 110-160 days in all,
provided we have been as strict about it as are the old Cypriot villagers,
but having also enjoyed a good many feasts.
Of course, in the towns life is rather different. Although there are many people
who do observe the fasting-times very strictly, the majority tend
to fast for only a week or three days before the big holidays.