Christmas 2020 celebrations in Cyprus

How Christmas Is Celebrated in Cyprus

Christmas season on the island is celebrated with a set of unique local traditions and – most importantly – lots of hearty Cypriot food.

Feasting and fasting are equally important

Traditionally, those practising the Greek Orthodox religion fasted for 40 days before 25 December to cleanse their bodies and celebrate the birth of Christ. Though few maintain the tradition today, Christmas Day still marks the end of the fast and is celebrated with heaps of food.

As well as traditional sweets, people bake christopsomo on Christmas Eve, a sweet bread whose name means ‘the bread of Christ’ and typically has a cross kneaded into it. It is eaten on Christmas Day along with a huge buffet.

Many traditions centre around food

Vasilopita, an orange and mastic-infused cake, can be found in every home on New Year’s Eve; it is left out on the table with a glass of red wine in order to be blessed by Saint Vasilis on his way to deliver the gifts. On the first day of the year, during another family lunch, the vasilopita is cut up and each family member selects a piece. Inside the cake is a hidden coin, and it is believed that the one who finds it will have a lucky year.

“The vasilopita is my most cherished memory of Christmas. My father would put a candle on the cake and a glass of Commandaria for Santa on New Year’s Eve, and in the morning we would rush to see if it had been drunk. It was so exciting to find crumbs on the plate!” says Marlene Michaelidou.

Door-to-door carolling has been around for centuries

Carrying triangles and other musical instruments, groups of friends gather and go from door to door singing carols on Christmas Eve. They knock on doors, asking “Na ta pume, na ta pume?” meaning “Shall we say them?” After singing, they are rewarded either with small amounts of money or kourabiedes and melomakarona. Many believe that this tradition stems from the Byzantine times or from Ancient Greece, when children would go around singing carrying small wooden boats to honour the god Dionysos.

The troublesome spirits

Singing also takes place after the 12 days of Christmas are over on 6 January, or Epiphany. Children go over to their grandparents’ house and say a short phrase and are given a small tip. These 12 days are considered to be the most dangerous of the year, as myth has it that mischievous little spirits, the kalikantzari, will appear, causing mayhem and playing tricks on people.

Legend has it that they find their way into houses through the chimneys, so many keep their fireplaces lit to keep the spirits away. On Epiphany, the official end of the festive period, people throw honey dough balls known as loukoumades onto their roofs to scare them away. Some people even hang an olive branch blessed by church water on their front door to protect their house from malicious spirits.

The traditional olive branch game

In some villages, it is common for people to make a cross by a fireplace with an olive leaf, then make a wish and throw it in the fire. The person throwing the branch is meant to think of someone they love; if the olive leaves crackle and jump when thrown in the fire, it means they are loved back.

Throwing a cross in the sea

In the Orthodox tradition, 6 January is the date of Christ’s baptism, and large-scale celebrations take place at local harbours to honour the water, a traditional symbol of christening. A bishop throws a cross in the sea and dozens of people dive into the cold January water to find it. The person who finds it is blessed by the church and is said to have a lucky year ahead.

People jump in the sea, eager to catch the cross honouring the traditions of the day © Giannis Papanikos / Shutterstock

Despite the fact that Orthodoxy came Byzantium, the orthodox celebrated religious holidays in many ways. We have collected all of the features of its celebration in this article, to make You thoroughly prepared for the traditional Christmas in Cyprus.

When is Christmas celebrated in Cyprus? Bright Christmas Day, along with Easter, is considered one of the most important religious holidays in Cyprus. In contrast to the Russian Orthodox Church , Christmas in Cyprus is traditionally celebrated on 25th, December.

The two week difference is due to the use of the Julian calendar in the ROC and New Julian  in most other Christian churches. However, the essence of the holiday does not change. How to celebrate? On Christmas Eve all over Cyprus children can be heard singing carols –  “Calanda” and “Good evening, the Magi” (local carols) and «Jingle Bells». «Kolyada» is celebrated with cookies, sweets and fruits.

On the December, 25th Cypriots go to church for the service and receive Holy Communion.  Then, with good wishes to each other, it’s back home for the holiday feast.  According to Cypriot beliefs, stepping over the threshold right foot first will bring you good luck in the New Year in Cyprus.

The actual Christmas time begins the next day and lasts until 4th January.  A series of celebrations then ensues, one of which of course is New Year, where the Cypriots traditionally prepare Vasilopita, and in place of Santa Claus, the children of Cyprus have Saint Vasilis (“Agios Vasilis”). On January 6th,  the eve of the Russian Christmas, Cyprus celebrate Epiphany. On this day, the children visit their grandparents reading their traditional greetings in verse. 

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