Christmas Customs of Cyprus
Ah, it is "kourabiedes" time, and the
sweet aroma of "melomakarona"
cookies will soon be filling Cypriot kitchens worldwide.
For the traveler to Cyprus, remember that many offices, business,
restaurants, and other amenities may be closed or keeping
unusual hours during the Christmas season.
Turkeys have invaded Cypriot Christmas customs, and so
travelers will find this dish prepared for Christmas feasting.
For many Cypriots the holiday is preceded by a time of fasting.
For Cyprus, the season is full swing by December 6th,
the Feast of St. Nicholas, and will
last through January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany.
Christmas in Cyprus is traditionally a solemn, religious holiday.
Throughout the festivities, there is no doubt that Cyprus
honors Christ at Christmas.
Beautiful carols called ""kalanda" have been handed down
from Byzantine times and add to the reverent quality of the celebration.
Are the remote Cyprus villages, with their whitewashed walls,
stone corrals for the precious (in spirit) from a night in
Bethlehem so long ago?
While other cultures have Christmas elves, the Cypriot
equivalent is not so benign.
Mischievous and even dangerous sprites called "Kalikantzari"
(or Calicantzari) according to myth; prey upon people only
during the twelve days of Christmas,
from Christmas Eve to Epiphany Day, on January, 6th.
Apart from the "kalikantzari" other customs of the old Cypriots related
to Christmas celebrations, were the following:-
The children used to get their presents on New Year's Day and
not on Christmas Day, as their "Santa" is Ai-Vasilis, whom they
celebrate on the 1st January.
So on New Year's Eve, after the children had gone to sleep, the
mother used to place Santa's cake with a coin inside by the
Christmas tree, lighting a candle on it and placing a goblet
full of wine next to it.
Tradition says, that Ai-Vasilis would come exhausted; he blessed
the cake and drank the wine. Then he placed the presents for the
children of the family under the tree. The children used to
wake early in the morning and after cutting
the "Vasilopitta" - Santa's cake - to find out who would be the
lucky one of the year - it was the person who had the piece with
the coin in it - they rushed to get their presents from under the tree.
Grandfathers and grandmothers
used to "ploumizoun" (give money)
to their grandchildren on the morning of Epiphany Day, on
the 6th January.
So, the children, early in the morning used
to go to their grandparents and said the following verse
'Kalimera ke ta Phota ke tin ploumistira prota" (Good morning
on this day of light and let us have our gift first). The grandparents
were pleased and gave them their tip (money-gift).
The story of Ayios Vasilis (Santa Claus)
according to Greek tradition
"Ayios Vasilis is coming from Caesarea,
holding a piece of paper and a pen!"
A beautiful scene that is repeated every year
on New Year's Eve and children
wait eagerly to receive their presents from Ayios Vasilis.
Ayios Vasilis is the children's favorite
saint because he
comes with a bag full of presents.
He was born in Caesarea of Kappadokia in 330AD.
When he finished school, he went to Constantinople
where he studies theology.
Then he went to Athens where he studied philosophy and rhetoric.
When he returned to his country he retired in a monastery
in Pontos where he studied the Bible and the ancient Greek writers.
After the death of the Bishop of Caesarea,
he was ordained Bishop and his fame for his charities
was so great that people started
imagining him as a good old man who comes round
holding a bag full of goodies giving to the poor
whatever they desired.
He wrote many wise books so people always thought of him
as a man of books with paper and a pen in hand.
He was as simple as a child; he had a sensitive and
loving soul and that's the reason
he became the favourite saint, the saint of presents,
of love and joy.
Vasilios's concern was not only for children.
He created a whole complex of charitable foundations
under the name "Vasiliada".
It included a house for the poor, a hospital, an orphanage,
a maternity hospital, a school building, trade-learning schools,
and special buildings for doctors and nurses.
It was a housing settlement in the country,
which was build for the humble and suffering people,
whom he used to visit every day,
he read the Bible to them and encouraged them.
When starvation hit the area Vasilios gave his
money and food to support the poor.
And when there was nothing left to give,
he started going around preaching and inducing
Christians to be charitable. So, both rich and poor
people offered whatever they could.
Vasilios mostly enjoyed the time he spent visiting his "children"
as he called the orphaned children.
He was serving poor people until his death
on the 1st of January 379 in "Vasiliada".
Therefore, the 1st of January became, for children and adults, a day
of love and joy for every child and every home.
Greek Turkey Stuffing with Rice
The gizzard and liver of a turkey
Boil the gizzard and liver, cut into small pieces and
600-650 g minced pork
5 tablespoons oil for the minced pork
1 small onion, finely chopped salt and pepper,
ground cinnamon and nutmeg parsley,
finely chopped 1 1/3 glasses long-grain rice (Uncle Ben's)
4-5 tablespoons oil for the rice
1 chicken stock cube
3 1/3 glasses boiling water
1/2 glass almonds, blanched and cut into
small pieces or pine nuts
1/2 glass raisins
place in separate bowls. Put the oil, minced pork, onion,
salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg in a pan and
place over moderate heat, stirring occasionally.
Add the chopped gizzard and continue to cook
until all juices evaporate.
When the meat mixture is lightly brown,
add the chopped parsley and the liver.
After some seconds remove from heat.
In a medium pan heat the oil and fry gently the
rice and chicken stock cube simultaneously.
Pour in the boiling water, cover and simmer,
stirring occasionally. When the rice is nearly cooked,
add the meat mixture and almonds.
When it is cooked, add the raisins, stir and then
remove from heat. Leave covered for about
10 minutes. Serve sprinkled with nutmeg.
* Instead of the turkey gizzard and liver,
two of each coming from a chicken may be used
New Year's Cake - Vasilopita
Line the base of a 28-30 cm round cake tin with foil.
1 3/4 - 2 glasses sugar
1 1/2 glasses vegetable shortening, half melted
4 glasses self-raising flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 glasses milk at room temperature or lightly boiled
1 glass almonds, blanched and cut into small pieces
or coarsely ground some almonds, blanched and halved.
Grease and flour. Pound the mastic with 1-2 teaspoons of the sugar.
Sift the flour and add the baking powder and pounded mastic.
Whisk the eggs very well. Add the remaining sugar and
continue to beat until creamy. Beat in the shortening
and alternately the milk and flour. Using a metal spoon,
stir in the almonds. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin
and create numbers by arranging the blanched halved almonds
on its top, to denote the new year, pressing in lightly.
Bake in a preheated, moderate oven (150 oC) for about
1 hour or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Note: For the sake of tradition, wrap a coin in a piece of foil
and press it into the mixture before baking. The one that
find's the coin, has good fortune for the year.
Kourabies - Almond Cookies
1 1/2 glasses vegetable shortening
1/2 glass oil
6 tablespoons icing sugar
1/4 glass brandy
1/4 glass rose water
1-2 glasses almonds blanched, roasted and cut into small pieces
4 3/4 - 5 glasses self-raising flour
icing sugar to coat Cream the shortening until light and fluffy.
Beat in the oil, icing sugar, brandy and rose water.
Add by hand half of the flour, the almonds and
then add the remaining flour, or as much as
needed, to make a fluffy dough.
Give the Kourampiedes the shape you prefer.
Place them on an ungreased baking tray and bake
in a preheated, cool oven (140oC) for 30 minutes or
until their bottom side is golden brown.
As soon as they are baked, remove from oven,
and lift off. After 10 - 15 minutes and while they
are still warm, coat them in icing sugar.
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Extract "Christmas Customs of Cyprus"
taken from "Cyprus Property and Home" magazine
Moon & Back Graphics