Throw in warm weather, lots of people, presents on multiple days and a traditional feast of Hoiromeri (roast pork) and you have a Cypriot Christmas. Greek Cypriots are predominately Greek Orthodox by religion and they used to follow the Julian calendar for Christ’s birth: the 7th January. In 1923, the Greek Orthodox religion agreed to move Christmas over to the 25th December (due to constantly moving dates), however, Epiphany and old Christmas Eve is still celebrated. I guess Cyprus celebrates two Christmasses, one on the 25th December (with a few alterations) and one on the 6th Jan.
The lead up to December 25th is full of getting everything ready. Some villages leave their doors unlocked to welcome in Mary and Jesus which is a tradition dating back centuries. Tables are laid and homes are decorated with olive branches (representing peace), a lit candle, poinsettias and of course a tree (although this is a British influence). Pomegranates are taking to church on Christmas Eve (24th December) to be blessed and then smashed open once home. If it makes a loud crack then the following year will bring happiness and peace. Table clothes dating back generations are passed down to be used – family is so important.
Traditionally the 25th December is a day to eat (when isn’t it) and presents are given on Jan 1st which is the saint day (and name day) for Agios Vasillis (Saint Basil).
Legend has it that Bishop Basil was a big supporter of the poor (just like the original Saint Nick) and when the poor were told to give away their more prized and expensive possessions, Basil argued that they didn’t have any because they were poor. When an army turned up anyway, Saint Mercourious turned up with an army and killed them all! Bishop Basil didn’t know which possessions belonged to whom, so baked a golden coin into a cake to be given to each family. This tradition is carried forward to this day.
This leads us nicely to the food…Vasilopita is an orange sponge cake served on new Year’s day. As above, a coin is baked into each cake and gives riches, prosperity and luck for the year ahead. Melomakarona and Kourabeides are also very popular (my house is always open). Melomakarona are Greek Honey cookies made with all the Christmas spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. Kourabeides have an almond base mixed with egg, spices and dusted with a lot of icing sugar. Don’t lick your lips before you finish one! Oh the houses and bakeries smell devine! The tastes aren’t bad either ha! Each Cypriot house will have an abundance of them both over Christmas and beyond! Drink with a Cypriot coffee (metrio please).
Food and family leads the way over the Christmas period and into the Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. Epiphany (also known as the festival of light) is celebrated on the 6th of Jan and celebrates when Jesus was baptised by John the Baptiste in the river in Jordan (coincidentally it’s a lovely place). The day begins with the ‘sanctification of the water’. The priest will bless a cross and throw it into the water |(this imitates the baptism). The first one to find the cross is considered lucky and blessed (and a good swimmer)! Blessed water is also sprinkled around the towns and villages to ward off evil either by drinking or crossing on doors.
Another fun tradition is waiting for and getting rid of the ‘karamanos’. These little goblins like to cause mischief and trouble and there is a clever way to get rid of them. Small doughnuts are made (like loukoumades) and thrown onto the roofs on Jan 5th so the little critters eat them and leave with full tummies rather than causing the mischief intended!
I’ll be sure to look to out for the Karamanos this year but I’m not sure about jumping in to the sea to receive the cross. I’m also hoping I get a vasilopita waiting for me on my doorstep on Jan 1st. What traditions do you want to try?
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