CYPRIOT PUBLIC HOLIDAYS AND MAJOR FESTIVALS
There are many events and festivals in Cyprus, most of which take place between spring and autumn. However the main holidays and festivals are largely dictated by the Greek Orthodox Church, and the following list is dedicated to these. The smaller festivals such as regional and village wine festivals are too numerous to list here
NEW YEAR’S DAY
As with most countries, New Year’s Day is celebrated with fireworks and parties spanning midnight New Year’s Eve/Day, however the Cypriot traditions go even further. New Year’s Eve is when Ayios Vasilis (St. Basil) arrives with gifts in readiness for his Name Day on New Year’s Day (Protochronia). Traditional food is Vasillopitta (Basil’s Pie), a sponge cake flavoured with orange, brandy and almonds.
EPIPHANY (Ta Fota)
In Cyprus it is known as Ta Fota, meaning “the Light”, and is the celebration of Christ’s baptism. Festivities take place largely in harbours, where, during the service, the officiating priest will throw his processional cross into the sea, to be retrieved by the young men of the town. He who returns the cross is believed to have a year’s good luck. Traditional foods are lokoumades, which are small honey-soaked pastries.
GREEN MONDAY (Lent Monday)
Green Monday (Kathara Deftera) is a very important day in the Orthodox calendar and also marks the start of spring. It is preceded by 10 days of carnival, which is a celebration of feasts, parades, and fun, the largest of which takes place in Limassol. The festival is heralded in by “King Carnival”, who also farewells it on the Sunday before Green Monday. Green Monday is a family feast set to mark the start of the 50 day Orthodox Lenten fast, a period when no meats from vertebrate animals can be eaten, and no dairy products. Traditionally families head to the country or beaches with a vegetarian picnic, where kite flying is featured.
GREEK INDEPENDENCE DAY
This holiday celebrates the Greek Revolution of 1821 against the Turks, but is also the religious celebration of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.
GREEK CYPRIOT NATIONAL DAY
This marks the start of the EOKA rebellion to gain independence from Britain, begun on 1st April, 1955.
Easter (Pascha) is the most important time in the Orthodox calendar, and Holy Week marks the lead up to the end of the Lenten fast at midnight on Easter Saturday. Good Friday marks the end of a week of cleaning in households, and the making of “flaounes”, a cake flavoured with cheese and either sultanas or mint. In the churches women arrive with white and cream flowers to decorate the wooden processional tabernacle (epitaphios), which is paraded through the streets after nightfall, accompanied by the priest and children bearing candles.
Traditionally a bonfire near the church is prepared and lit after dark by the children to mark the betrayal of Christ by Judas. At 23.30 the midnight mass begins culminating with the extinguishing of all lights in the church. After a brief silence candles are lit to the ringing of church bells.
The Lenten fast is over, and households hold feasts featuring meats and fish.
A day of rest and recovery after the Easter celebrations.
MAY DAY / LABOUR DAY
To mark the achievements of workers in Cyprus. Traditionally spring flowers are hung on doors to ward off evil.
WHIT MONDAY / PENTECOST / KATAKLYSMOS
This day is marked by the Feast of the Pentecost, and in a celebration mostly unique to Cyprus, Kataklysmos is celebrated to mark the saving of mankind and animals by Noah. Celebrations take place mainly at the sea side, and it is considered lucky to sprinkle each other with sea water to symbolize the cleaning and purification of the soul and body. The main celebration takes place on the waterfront of Larnaca.
14 days of fast precede the Feast of the Assumption, which celebrates the death, resurrection and assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven. Also known as Dormination of the Theotokos (falling asleep of the Mother of God).
CYPRUS INDEPENDENCE DAY
Celebrating the independence of Cyprus from Britain and the gaining of status as an independent, democratic state on 1st October, 1960.
GREEK NATIONAL DAY / OCHI DAY
“Ochi” means “no”, and this celebration marks the famous reply by the Greek Prime Minister, Metaxas, to Mussolini’s surrender ultimatum in 1940. The day is marked by parades and dancing.
The second most important celebration in the Orthodox calendar, Christmas Day celebrates the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. It is celebrated by church services and family gatherings, and is more traditional than the Western commercialized celebrations.
A traditional day of rest and recovery after Christmas Day.