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Easter…the Cypriot way

Χριστός Ανέστη (Christos Anesti/Jesus has risen) to all.

I’ve haven’t celebrated Easter back home for a long time and every year around this time nostalgia kicks in and I miss all the weird and wonderful traditions only happening in Cyprus (and some also in Greece).

Preparations for Easter start 10 weeks in advance. This is what I remember:

The first week is a normal one (fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, which are days of fasting all year around- you are not allowed to eat meat or dairy or anything with oil).

The second week, everything is allowed, (Apokreo week) even on Wednesdays and Fridays. On Thursday (“Tsiknopempti”) of that week a LOT of meat and other traditional dishes are consumed and most people celebrate the evening with friends and family. In Cyprus we make delicious, fluffy, sweet pourekia (fried dumplings) with anari (Cypriot cheese similar to ricotta), a local delicacy we make on different occasions, one of them is Tsiknopempti.

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Pourekia with anari

Also on this Sunday, the Cypriot Carnival takes place, with most of the celebrations in Limassol. A lot of dressing up parties going on during the week until the big parade on Sunday.

The following week no meat is allowed, but you can eat dairy products (Tirinis week).

The week after that the 40 days of strict fasting (no meat, dairies, chocolate, not even olive oil!) start from Green Monday.

Green Monday is a public holiday in Cyprus and Greece and most people spend it having a picnic in green fields and fly kites. The pic-nic usually consists of dips like hummus and taramas, olives, beetroot, halva, lots of different vegetables and fresh bread.

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Every Sunday for the following weeks celebrates a different religious event that leads up to Easter and Fridays are dedicated to Holy Mary (beautiful melodies on those Friday services are sang, called ‘Salutations to Mother Mary’).

Here is a sample sang by nuns.

Then we come to the Holy Week.  

The Saturday just before is dedicated to Lazarus resurrection and the dead, so we all remember our special ones on that day and light a candle in their memory.

Sunday marks Jesus arrival in Jerusalem where Jews welcomed him laying palm leaves on the street and chanting.

Holy Monday is dedicated to Jesus cursing a fig tree and also to Joseph, son of Jacob (of the Old Testiment).

Holy Tuesday is dedicated to the 10 Virgins parable.

Holy Wednesday is dedicated to a sinned woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her tears and the hymn of St Kassiani is sang.

Holy Thursday is dedicated to Last Supper, Jesus prayer at Gethsemane, his betrayal by Judas, his arrest and trial. On that night a re-enactment of the Crucifixion is performed in church (no humans involved). It’s also tradition to dye eggs red, which we use for ‘Egg battle’ on Easter Sunday.

In Cyprus, on Thursdays, most of families bake one of my favourite traditional Easter pastries, flaounes. My dad makes the best!

Holy Friday is dedicated to Jesus death, during which a wooden Epitaph symbolising Jesus tomb is carried around the church and later in the neigbourhood followed by everyone (priests, chanters etc) and the most beautiful eulogies are sang. Some churches have choirs performed them (I used to be in one when I was a child). Whilst eulogies are sang little girls dressed in white throw flowers around the ‘tomb’.

In the evening all saints icons are covered with black sheet as a sign of mourning.

On Saturday morning the news that Jesus resurrected break out and this happens at church: (Maybe not as enthusiastically as this priest).

In the evening, around 11pm, we all gather at church to ‘officially’ celebrate Jesus resurrection.

Lights go off at 12am, and a hymn called Χριστός Ανέστη (Jesus resurrected) is chanted multiple times. We all light a candle and wish each other Χριστός Ανέστη! The service finishes at 3am usually, but most leave just after 12am. It’s a tradition to eat Magiritsa (a traditional soup made for Easter) or avgolemoni (soup made with rice, eggs and lemon juice) on that night.

This is from last night’s service (thank you Anna for the wonderful photo).

Also on Saturday evening, it’s a Cypriot tradition to light a fire that represents burning Judas, as he betrayed Jesus.

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On Sunday noon, the Vespers of Love are on at church for about half an hour.

After that, families and friends are gathered for a LARGE meal, traditional games are played (egg and spoon and sack races amongst others) and we all clink our red eggs with each other, the one whose egg doesn’t break is the winner.

And that’s how we celebrate Easter.

Happy Easter!!! Christos Anesti! Χριστός Ανέστη, χρόνια πολλά!

PS. I do not own any images used, most I found online.. Thank you to my little sis for the cover photo and the church snap) x

Eleni

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