Cyprus Passion

Martoui Bracelet Tradition
Martoui is a well-known tradition of Cyprus, Greece and some Balkan regions. Martoui is a bracelet made of twisted red and white thread (red symbolising love and beauty and white, purity). Children make their bracelets on the last day of February and wear them on the 1st-31st of March. According to the tradition, the Martoui protects the children from the first signs of sun in spring, and from sunburn. Whilst this theory has the best of intentions, we would recommend sunscreen to protect from sunburn.

Easter (Pascha).
Easter is the largest festival in the Greek Orthodox faith. 50 days prior to Easter Sunday, Orthodox people fast from meat and animal related products. Prior to the fast is the Apokries festival, a carnival in celebration of meat before Lent. The Apokries festival is celebrated all over Cyprus however the largest festival occurs in Limassol. Participants dress up in different costumes and parade through the streets. Another tradition unique to the Orthodox faith is dying eggs red. On Easter Sunday family members will take an egg and crack it with another person to see who will win. On Good Friday Greek Cypriots bake Flaounes, a delicious savoury pastry filled with cheese and eggs. Flaounes are a rich pastry eaten on Easter Sunday to break the fast.

On the morning of Good Friday, Cypriots mourning the death of Jesus will go to Church and decorate the “Epitaphios” in flowers. The “Epitaphios” is a wooden tabernacle with a deceased icon of Christ to represent his grave. In the evening the “Epitaphios” is carried through the streets with the clergy leading the procession. The faithful follow carrying candles and singing hymns, while the church bells ring the funeral toll. On Easter Saturday people attend church once more for the resurrection of Christ. Upon exit of the church people will look to each other and say “Christos Anesti” – “Christ has risen” and others will respond with “Alithos Anesti” – “Truly [Christ has] risen” or “Alithos o Kyrios” – “Truly the lord [has risen]”. Most people also gather at midnight after Church to eat a traditional soup “Avgolemoni” with their family members.

1st of May
The 1st of May is one of the most beautiful traditions on the island. Cypriots welcome Spring and celebrate the blossom of nature. They create wreaths of flowers and hang them on their front doors to welcome spring into their homes.

The Wine Festival
The wine festival is a cultural event dating back to Ancient times. Similar events occurred in honour of Dionysos the God of vines and wine and Aphrodite, the Goddess of love and fertility. Since 1961 the Wine Festival in Limassol became one of the feature events of the city. Limassol is also considered the capital of Cypriot wine. The festival lasts 12 days and is hosted in the Limassol Municipal Gardens. Patrons can see a demonstration of a traditional wine press whilst they taste the different wines on offer. Traditional food, music and dancing is also apart of the festivities.

1st of October – Cyprus National Day
The 1st of October commemorates Cyprus gaining independence from Britain in 1960. Independence Day is marked by festivals and a military parade in the capital of Nicosia. Infantry and mechanised units from the National Guard, Greek Forces in Cyprus and the Police and the Fire Service all participate in the annual parade.

Christmas or the birth of baby Jesus is one of the most significant dates in the Orthodox faith. Leading up to Christmas, many streets in Cyprus are decorated with Christmas lights and decorations. Children dressed in Christmas costumes travel from door-to-door in their neighbourhood singing traditional carols (otherwise known as “Kalanda” in Greek). 

Another Christmas tradition is “Ai Vasili Vasilia” a traditional Christmas custom from the villages of Cyprus. This game consists of tossing an olive leaf into a burning fireplace to see if a person you are thinking of loves you. Before throwing the leaf, a person will say “Saint Vasili King, show and illuminate if I am loved by…” and then you name whoever’s love you are hoping for. If the leaf jumps up after you throw it in the fire, it is said that the person loves you. If not, you may try again. Cypriots will also bake traditional sweets at Christmas time such as Melomakarona. As these biscuits do not contain eggs, they are edible during the Christmas fasting period. Another sweet Cypriots will bake is Kourabiethes. 

On Christmas day after the morning church service, Cypriots will gather with their families and cook a traditional lunch in celebration of Christ.

New Year’s Day and the Vasilopita.
The Vasilopita is a traditional New Years cake named after St Basil (Ai Vasilis – the Greek name for Santa Claus). The recipe for the cake differs as each family has their own preferred recipe. The unique element of the Vasilopita is that each cake, has a coin placed inside, before it is baked. 

At precisely midnight families wish each other a Happy New Year and many years of good health. It is now time to serve the Vasilopita. The person cutting the cake will bless the Vasilopita by making a cross with a knife on top of it, 3 times. After the cake is cut into triangular pieces it is given to each person. The first piece is dedicated to the house, the family or to Christ. The successive pieces are then for the family members or friends gathered in order of eldest to youngest. The last piece is dedicated to the poor as well as any other individuals who for various reasons couldn’t attend. Cypriots believe that the person who wins the coin in their piece of cake will have good luck and good fortune all year long. The person must keep the coin in their wallet or purse for the rest of the year, so they’ll never be without money. It is also the custom for Cypriots to exchange gifts on New Years Day rather than on Christmas Day.

Theofania and Kallikanzaroi
“Theofania” on the 6th of January commemorates the baptism of Jesus by St John the Baptist and the Holy Trinity revealed. At the blessing of the waters (a service in honour of the baptism of Christ) the priest will throw a cross into the ocean near the shoreline. Numerous participants of all ages will swim and try to retrieve the cross. The person that does so is said to be especially blessed for the year.

The folk tale of the “Kallikanzaroi” (or “Hobgoblins” in English) is another aspect of the “Theofania.” Legend states that the “Kallikanzaroi” are black creatures that look like Elves and cause mischief. They live deep inside the earth and come to the surface during the 12 day period from Christmas until “Theofania.” Cypriot households traditionally bake loukoumades (honey puffs) to ward of the “Kallikanzaroi.” Cypriots will toss loukoumades onto the roof of their houses as peace offerings to the creatures. This is so the “Kallikanzaroi” will not cause trouble for their families and go back into the ground where they are from. As previously mentioned, the “Kallikanzaroi” are just a folk tale, but it is a great excuse for Cypriots to eat delicious loukoumades.

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