Easter, “Pascha” as it is known in Greece, is the most significant religious holiday of the Orthodox Church. At this time of year, the weather is warm the flowers are blooming and villages throughout the island celebrate with a number of traditional festivities. The locals warmly welcome westerners to book reservations at hundreds of Cyprus villas/hotels/apartments. Enjoy fabulous food and warm fellowship by taking your Easter break in Cyprus. The holiday does not always coincide with the Protestant date of Easter and in 2012, Easter Sunday lands on April 15th.
During Holy Week, Cyprus villagers prepare for the festivities by sprucing up homes, attending regular church services and baking traditional holiday foods. Local fishermen create and sell “vaynes,” small palm leaf baskets designed for youngsters. On Palm Sunday, children fill the baskets with fresh flowers and follow the church procession that commemorates Christ’s arrival into Jerusalem. Older children carry palm fronds and many bring olive leaves, which dry for 40 days. After thoroughly drying, churches burn the leaves as incense. Churches hold services in the mornings, afternoons and evenings through the holiday.
On Thursday, the local women begin baking holiday breads. Traditional favourites include “flaounes,” a type of cheesecake made with dough, containing a cheese, egg and mint filling, cut into squares or triangles. “Koulouria” contains milk, sugar and spices, and “tyropittes” are breads stuffed with cheese and rolled in sesame seeds. Families also dye eggs red, yellow, blue and green. Red represents the blood of Christ. Villagers may buy egg dyes at the local market or use native roots and flowers, boiled with the eggs, for coloration.
Girls traditionally take fresh flowers to the church on Good Friday, to decorate the Holy Sepulcher, called the “Epitafios.” Depending on the size of the structure, this activity may take the better part of the morning. Lunch entails a special lentil and vinegar soup called “Faki Xidati.” The vinegar represents what was offered to Christ to quench his thirst. Beginning in the afternoon, parishioners arrive by car, or on foot, journeying from church to church while symbolically paying their respects to the Saviour while comparing decorations. Communities decorate the streets with colored lights in preparation for the evening procession.
Each congregation walks through the streets led by parish priests providing the service. Young men carry the litter of Christ while the choir sings seasonal hymns. Children carry sparklers and locals ignite fireworks from balconies. Each procession follows a designated path, which leads back to each church. Congregations attend church again on Saturday morning. During the service, participants bang the church doors and shake the candle holders while proclaiming that Christ is no longer in the grave.
The church bells ring throughout Cyprus starting at 11 PM Saturday evening. Parishioners return to church, each bringing a candle. Members gather in the courtyards around bonfires. At midnight, the service officially begins and priests deliver the Resurrection, or “Anastasis” message. Church members greet each other with the words “Christos anesti,” Christ has risen, and respond with “alithos anesti,” truly he is risen. The priest lights his candle and another candle in turn. The light passes from one candle to the next while the priest declares that Christ’s light cannot be extinguished. Following the service, candlelit processions travel through the streets accompanied by fireworks displays.
Another service held on Sunday morning offers parishioners the opportunity for receiving Holy Communion. Following this service, families return home or gather on church grounds and enjoy celebratory picnics. Everyone shares baked goods and traditional barbecued or roasted lamb feasts accompanied by wine. Villagers set aside any quarrels amongst each other. The feasting begins, and all enjoy traditional music, dance and games.
Thanks again to the team over at the new travel blog iTraveliBlog.com for this unique and interesting article!