Christmas in Cyprus
24th December 2018
The Christmas holiday celebration in Cyprus is a real mixture of culture, religious beliefs, and superstitions. Just like much of the world, Christmas has become more commercialised but many Cypriots still prefer to celebrate in the traditional way. The season runs from 6th December, the Feast of St. Nicholas, and lasts through until 6th January, the Feast of Epiphany.
Traditionally, Christmas Eve starts with parades through town, and carollers singing “kalanda” door-to-door (not your typical modern carols, but beautiful melodies from the Byzantine period).
Christmas Day is celebrated as a family gathering; Santa Claus does not come on Christmas eve here and not many give presents on this day. Most families start the day by attending church and then spend the afternoon and evening feasting with their family and friends. Delicious smells come from the kitchens with the baking of “kourabiedes” (Christmas butter cookies) and “melomakarona” (Christmas honey cookies).
But it is not all sweetness and light, mischievous and even dangerous sprites called “Kalikantzari” (or Calicantzari) according to the myth; prey upon people during the twelve days of Christmas, from (Christmas Eve to Epiphany Day). They enter houses via a chimney-invasion and cause all kinds of trouble; put out fires in the fireplaces, making the milk sour or even climbing on people’s backs and making fun of them! In order to protect themselves, people wrap a spring of vasilikos (basil herb) around a cross and sprinkle it around the house with holy water throughout this period.
New Year’s Day is the Feast of St. Basil. St. Basil is the patron saint of Cyprus and Santa is “Ai-Vasilis”. On New Year’s Eve, after the children have gone to sleep, “Vasilopitta” (Santa’s cake) is placed (with a coin inside) by the Christmas tree, a candle is lit on top and a goblet of wine left next to it. Ai-Vasilis comes exhausted; he blesses the cake and drinks the wine, then he puts presents under the tree. The children wake early in the morning and cut the cake – the one who finds the coin in their piece will be the lucky one of the year! Then it is the well-know-world-over-full-on rush to get presents from under the tree….
If you fancy a change from whatever your usual Christmas entails, you could tour around the villages in what is usually good weather. (You may even be able to sit outside in the sunshine as long as you don’t expect any full-on sun bathing and swimming in the sea is only for the brave!). It gets dark early and then it can become quite chilly. Hotels and restaurants always have celebration meals going on and their decorations are lovely. If you go into the Troodos Mountain villages they are likely to be covered with snow. For amazing Christmas lights try to visit Nicosia for the Christmas Fairyland with its brightly lit Ferris wheel, stalls with souvenirs, gifts, food and drinks. A magical atmosphere with activities for adults and kids and concerts from popular Greek and Cypriot singers.
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