HOLY EASTER CELEBRATIONS
TRADITION AND CUSTOMS OF EASTER IN CYPRUS
The greatest holiday for the Greek Orthodox.
Everything should look clean and new, so houses are cleaned, painted or white-washed especially in the islands and villages.
Holy Week is dedicated to church-going and to baking.
On PALM SUNDAY when people follow the icon of Christ around the church in a procession commemorating Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.
From now on there are church services morning, afternoon and evening.
Usually eggs are dyed on THURSDAY. Traditionally they are dyed red.
On Thursday most women do their Easter baking of “flaounes” in Cyprus, a kind of cheese cakes, made of shorcrust with a cheese, egg and mint filling, formed into triangular and square shapes.
“Koulouria” are baked with milk, spices and a little sugar and sesame seeds.
GOOD FRIDAY begins with everyone taking flowers to church so that the young girls can decorate the “Epitafios” – Holy Sepulchre. In most churches it 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.
The church service finishes at about 2.00 after midnight and all people present who did not get the Holy Communion can get it now. When they return home they sit at the already set table which is decorated with the colored eggs, flaounes, and Easter decorations and eat a soup called “Magiritsa”.
SUNDAY MORNING with family and friends gatherings and picnics are held everywhere; lamps are roasted on the spit and wine flows freely.
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 all sing gay songs or love songs, or teasing songs called “ Tchatista” – rhymes- . These rhymes are made up at every festive occasion and there are even professionals who sing them.
The characteristic of the “tchatista” is that someone gets 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 “tchatista” by making up the rhyme as they go along, one making up the first few lines, the other the next few and so on.
MONDAY is again a holiday, a day out in fields or by a beach, with even more fun and outdoor picnics with roasted lamps on the spit and more wine with dancing and singing till very late.
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