Christmas & New Year's Eve in Cyprus
A short introduction to unique traditions and customs in Cyprus to get you to the merry mood...
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Cyprus may not have snow during Christmas but it is surely a festive place to be with warm family traditions, special and interesting customs, lots of activities for everyone, unique events and delicious tastes.
Christmas is always celebrated in Cyprus in a rather traditional way. It is, beyond doubt, a magic, precious and loving holiday for both children and grownups. A time when people rejoice the birth of boy Jesus, spend time with beloved ones, exchange gifts, sing carols and... eat!
And if children weren’t naughty during the past year, they deserve a gift from Ayios Vasilis (Santa Claus), who visits all houses on New Year’s Eve. Well, Santa Claus flies all over the world, which is for sure, but only here in the island of Cyprus, is able to enjoy a tasty piece of a pie named after him! The good mummies prepare Vasilopitta (Santa’s pie), which has a hidden ‘lucky’ coin within (the one who finds the lucky coin must keep it in his wallet for the rest of the year, meaning he’ll never be left without money in his pockets!), save a piece for Agios Vasilis accompanied with a glass of red wine. Our holy Santa, wanting to rest himself after the hard night-work of distributing the gifts worldwide, drinks the wine and blesses the father’s wallet! In the morning, when our little ones wake up with their cute pyjamas and their messy hair, they eagerly want to see their received gifts and, of course, enjoy the rest of the pie!
Nobody (de facto!) feels hungry during this cheerful period: tables are full and inviting: from delicious melomakarona (walnut biscuits with honey syrup) to delectable kourabiedes (almond cookies dressed in white sugar) and finikia, from stuffed turkey to pork on fire accompanied with a glass of wine, brandy or liqueur, one enjoys the company of others while playing cards or table games. Pomegranates are also very popular during Christmas in Cyprus and they are not only used for decoration: they also symbolize fertility as well as wealth and happiness. Note that many Cypriots fast before Christmas time, so the pleasure deriving from a festive dish is double!
Our petit friends are very lucky, as they are allowed, among the gifts they enthusiastically unwrap and the chocolate candies they luxuriously consume, to request a ploumisman (small tip), given from grandparents on the morning of Epiphany day. They demand their money-tip as they say the distich Kalimera kai ta Phota kai tin pouloustrina prota (meaning Good morning on this day but let us first have our money-gift!).
Another Cypriot Christmas custom has to do with olive small leaves. If there is a fireplace in the house, everybody throws in olive leafs, in an effort to see if he/she is loved by someone else. All he/she has to do is ask: Ai-Vasili vasilia, deixe tzai fanerose an m’ agapa o … (Oh, Saint Vasili, dear king, please show me if …. loves me). If the olive leaf jumps out making noise, the person one has thought about truly loves him/her. If no sound is heard, well, he/she is left out of the world of his/her love… But the others next to him ensure him/her that there is always hope for love!
My Guide Cyprus warmly wishes you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May the festive season be sparkle with moments of love, laughter and goodwill!
cover photo credit Evros A. Evriviades.