Easter Week in Limassol is fast approaching. In the spirit of spring’s ritual renewal, average local temperatures rise to a glorious 21–26C. It’s no coincidence that visitors to Cyprus, including of course Londa hotel guests, may be keen to take a mini-break. Chilly winter blasts mixed with April showers continue to sweep across several home countries at northern latitudes.
The desire to relax and re-energise in Limassol’s warming Mediterranean air over Easter is always a popular choice. Visitor numbers to the island during April rose from 286,331 in 2017 to 314,143 in 2018 – up by 9.7 per cent (Cyprus Statistical Service).
For the cultural explorer seeking meaningful “boutique” experiences, Easter Week in Cyprus, and its celebrations immersed in a rich religious and cultural heritage, can be an insightful and rewarding time. Whether religious minded or secular, visitors from all walks of life are sure to find the various customs and rituals a fascinating glimpse into authentic community traditions preserved down the centuries.
Most important religious event in the Greek Orthodox calendar
“Pascha”, or Holy Easter, is the most important religious event in the Greek Orthodox calendar. This year, Holy Week begins on the 22nd of April (Holy Monday) and ends on the 28th of April (Easter Sunday). However, the timing of the Orthodox celebration of Easter is based on the Julian calendar – first used by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C – and differs from the western tradition, which uses the Gregorian calendar, introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.
While several Orthodox countries only changed to the Gregorian calendar around 100-150 years later, the national churches continue to use the Julian system of calculating the start and finish of religious celebrations. It means that Orthodox Good Friday falls on the 26th April and Orthodox Easter Monday on the 29th.
Preparations for Easter are everywhere, from mountain village dwellings to the urban apartments of Limassol district…
Air filled with the sweet fragrant aroma of traditional Cypriot pasties and sweets
Thursday of Holy Week can find the air filled with the sweet fragrant aroma of traditional Cypriot pasties and sweets baked just for Easter Sunday. Heated ovens are filled with ‘flaounes’ – small triangular shaped loaves made of flour, eggs, cheese, mint and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Other savoury delights include ‘paskies’ (small meat pies), ‘koulouria’ (biscuits made of milk, flour, spices and sugar), and ‘tiropites’ (small cheese pies in puff pastry). The bread and pastries are decorated with eggs, dyed red, blue yellow and green, and displayed in bowls and baskets ahead of the traditional, festive games played on Easter Sunday.
Flowers collected and carried by young girls to decorate the ‘Epitaphios’
On Good Friday or Greek “Great Friday”, families gather in churches around the island with flowers collected and carried by young girls to decorate the ‘Epitaphios’ during the service. The Epitaphios is an icon which depicts Christ after his removal from the cross. During the Friday evening church service, the decorated Epitaphios is carried in procession through the streets of the local area.
Before the evening service on Easter Saturday (at 11.00pm), church bells sound out in all the villages and towns of Cyprus summoning everyone to come and celebrate the “miracle of resurrection”. Huge bonfires are lit in the churchyards and everyone carries a large unlit candle – known as a ‘lambada’.
A few minutes before midnight, all the lights in the church are switched off and the choir chants the story of the three women who brought myrrh to Christ’s tomb only to find it empty. The lights are switched on again at precisely midnight and the priest calls the congregation to “take from his candle the light which never dies.” Known as the Holy Fire or Greek “Holy Light”, the flame is passed from person to person until everyone is holding a lit candle. The service continues outside the church with an open-air Mass.
Game of ‘breaking of the eggs’
After the service, most of the congregation watch the firework displays, and then return home with family and friends to break the fast of Lent. The feast begins with traditional Cypriot ‘trachana’ (a creamy, savoury soup of wheat and yogurt) or ‘magiritsa’ (a creamy soup with a tangy lemon twist and pieces of meat).
A game is then played in which each person takes one of the eggs that were hardboiled and dyed on Thursday, and strikes it against another person’s egg. Whoever is left with an uncracked egg is declared the winner. The game of breaking the eggs symbolises Christ breaking free from the tomb to be resurrected.
However, it’s on Easter Sunday itself when many of the customary celebrations really begin.
Traditional Cypriot music played in village squares across the island
From Sunday lunchtime until Tuesday night, games and traditional Cypriot music are played in village squares and churchyards right across the island. Areas where public festivities are usually held in Limassol include Agios Tychonas, Germasogeia, Pano Polemidia, Lania and Sykopetra. In the afternoon, traditional ‘souvla’ – large pieces of lamb, pork or chicken cooked on an open charcoal fire – and consumed with salads, cakes, sweets, and alcoholic beverages.
Across Cyprus, everyone from local resident to island visitor is likely to be greeted with an enthusiastic, “Christos Anesti” (Christ is Risen!), “Kopiaste” (Welcome!) or “Chronia Polla” (May you have many years!). So it only remains to wish all our guests at Londa Hotel and visitors to Limassol, “Kalo Pascha” – a Happy Easter!