Important Days and Festivals in Cyprus
Cyprus is host to a plethora of annual arts, historical, religious and sporting events and festivals which draw crowds from across Cyprus and the world. Many of these events take place between autumn and spring, when the weather is warmer. The framework of the calendar in Cyprus is provided by the Greek Orthodox Church which plays an important role in everyday life and has many festivals throughout the year which remain as important to young people as they do to their parents and grandparents. There are also a number of important cultural events such as the Wine Festival and the Paphos Aphrodite Festival, so visitors and residents alike find each of the months has its own character and something of interest….
Before you come to Cyprus, be sure to check out what’s happening by taking a peek at our Events section.
01 January, New Year. Welcome to the New Year 'Protochronia'... As the clock strikes twelve, the New Year is marked in a big way with fireworks filling the night sky. A plethora of parties and events occur with everyone kissing and greeting Happy New Year ‘Kali Khronia’. As well as celebrating the arrival of a new year, traditionally it is Ayios Vasilis (Saint Basil) rather than Father Christmas who brings everyone’s gifts when he arrives on the night of New Year’s Eve - in time for his Name Day on 1 January!
Soon after midnight, families gather together to share their Vasilopitta - ‘Basil’s Pie’ which is a delicious sponge cake flavoured with local oranges and Brandy with the New Year written in almonds on the top! There is great ceremony as the head of the family 'crosses' the cake (a sign of blessing) and then cuts the cake and puts the first two slices aside to be given to the church and Christ and the poor. He then serves himself the third slice, his wife the next and all the family and friends are given their slice - served in descending age order! One person will find a silver or sometimes gold coin hidden in their slice and this ensures good luck for the whole year ahead.
06 January, Epiphany 'Fota'. The 12th day of Christmas…The festival of Epiphany (6 January) is known in Cyprus as ‘Ta Fota’ which means ‘the light’ and is a big festival that celebrates the baptism of Christ and celebrations take place in all the harbours. The Bishop leads a procession of school children and members of various youth organisations accompanied by the local band along to the harbour. During the Epiphany service, the Bishop dramatically tosses his processional cross into the sea to bless the waters and scores of local lads dive in quickly to retrieve it - he who does is ensured of good luck for the year! Everyone spends time in the harbour area and everyone wanders around dressed in their best clothes and enjoying a tray of lokoumades (tiny honey-soaked doughnuts) bought from the roadside stalls. Away from the hustle and bustle of the festivities, some of older Cypriots quietly wash their fruit and vegetables in the blessed seawater to ensure that they have a bountiful harvest in the autumn.
A brief ski season! January usually means snow time in Cyprus although the snowfall can be unpredictable. As soon as the weathermen announce the first snow on the mountains, families head up to the Troodos for a day in the snow. When there is enough snow, all the ski kit as well as snowboards and sledges can be hired at the ski stores at Sun Valley One. For those who would rather not ski, the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) has charted some good nature trails although seeing the various plants and herbs can be tricky when they have been dusted with snow!
Carnival time! Around late February or beginning of March (the dates are movable, depending on the date of the Greek Orthodox Easter) there are ten days of fun when everyone celebrates the Carnival with feasts and fancy-dress parties and parades. Carnival is celebrated in every town but Limassol is the focus for the celebrations with traditionally the liveliest and most entertaining events. The first day of the Carnival sees a lively procession through the streets with scores of decorated floats and one carrying a very special visitor – King Carnival! Over the next few days there are numerous parties and parades and everyone is in a festive mood. On the last day of Carnival – Sunday - King Carnival bids everyone a lively cheerio for another year!
Monday of Lent. The day after the carnival ends is ‘Green Monday’ a really big family festival that marks the start of the 50-day Orthodox Lenten fast which ends after midnight on Easter Saturday. It signifies the beginning of leaving the sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods behind, prepare for cleanliness from within and externally and head towards Easter with a clean conscience, with forgiveness, and with renewed Christian love. On Green Monday or ‘Kathara Deftera’ everyone heads for the countryside with a huge vegetarian picnic and flying kites. There are many kite-flying competitions and some excellent stunt kites can be bought cheaply in local shops but many of the competitors have spent hours creating sizeable home-made kites and these are great fun to watch in action! Traditionally, it is considered to mark the beginning of the spring season.
25 March, Greek Independence Day - is one of the most significant national holidays in Greece. It is both a religious holiday celebrating The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and a national holiday honouring the 1821 Greek Revolution against the Turks. A national military parade takes place.
1 April, Greek Cypriot National Day. Honours 1st April 1955 which marked the start of the heroic EOKA rebellion for Cyprus to gain independence against the British Colony.
Easter 'Pascha'. As everyone prepares for Easter…The Lenten fast is observed by many Cypriots of all ages and is a very strict one as it prohibits meat, fish and any dairy products – and even olive oil in the final week of the fast in Holy Week. In the local hotels and food shops you will see signs with the word ‘nistisimo’ which means that particularly food can be eaten during the fast! These 50 days are solemn in comparison to the carnival period as everyone prepares themselves spiritually for Easter, the biggest festival in the Orthodox calendar.
During Holy Week there are daily church services at sunset when a special anthem to Our Lady called 'Hairetismoi' is sung. Everyone cleans their house ready for Easter and early on Good Friday housewives make dozens of flaounes. These delicious special Easter cheese pies are flavoured with either sultanas or mint and can be bought in local bakeries if you would like to try them! Later in the morning, all the women go to their local church with armfuls of white and cream-coloured flowers. Inside the church they spend time decorating the epitaphios (wooden tabernacle). Visitors are welcome to pop into the church to admire the ladies’ work. After nightfall the epitaphios containing an icon of Christ is taken around the village or towns in a procession led by the priest and escorted by children with candles and many people.
Easter is the greatest festival of all. On Easter Saturday evening youngsters prepare a bonfire near their church which is lit in memory of Judas Iscariot and his betrayal of Christ. At about 11.30pm everyone gathers for the Easter midnight service. Visitors are welcome join in, but need to have one of the special Easter candles that can be bought in kiosks and supermarkets. The priest (Pater) begins the service to a packed congregation and it reaches its crescendo at midnight. As the clock strikes 12, the church is plunged into darkness. There is a brief silence and then the priest proclaims - ‘Christos Anesti’ – ‘Christ is risen’ ; To which the congregation jofully replies - ‘Alithos anesti’ – ‘He is truly risen.’
The church bells clang as the priest lights the candles of all those around him and they in turn light the candles of those standing behind. Soon the church is bathed in candlelight and everyone greets each other with the priest’s words. The younger people rush outside to let off fireworks, whilst the older people cup their hand carefully around their candle and try to get it home alight as this is said to bring good luck to the family. Usually the family celebrations continue for three days and family members living abroad always try to get home for Easter in Cyprus.
The Anthestiria Festival is a celebration for spring and flowers. In Larnaka a parade of floats and youngsters decorated with beautifull, colourful, fresh flowers takes place yearly in May along the lovely palm-lined sea front promenade 'the Phinikoudes'. The festivities date back to ancient Athens in Greece.
European Dance Festival. An annual highlight on the European arts and culture scene, the European Dance Festival takes over the Rialto Theatre in Limassol and the Pallas Theatre in Nicosia. Sixteen European countries unite for an extravaganza of contemporary dance, performances and inspiring workshops. Performances take place at the Rialto Theatre and workshops at the Limassol Municipal Dance Centre.
Kataklysmos. A truly Cypriot festival. Fifty days after the Orthodox Easter is the Festival of the Flood 'Kataklysmos' a festival only found in Cyprus and a few coastal villages in Greece and is marked by the feast of the Pentecost or Whitsun. Kataklysmos celebrates ‘the flood’ and the saviour of mankind and the animals by Noah in the ark according to the Old Testament. The celebrations are all focused on water and big festivals take place in all seaside areas with the most popular and biggest occurring in Larnaka. The sea front promenades are converted into large open-air fairs with games, entertainment, toys and traditional food stalls. A popular tradition and it is considered very lucky is to sprinkle each other with sea water, symbolising the purification of the body and the soul. The events which last for 7-10 days include boat and swimming competitions, traditional songs and dances and music contests. After sunset there is music and dancing until late into the night with famous artists…
Larnaka Festival is one of the leading cultural events in Cyprus featuring important musical, theatrical and dancing performances with famous international artists.
Mountain Villages Cultural Week, Limassol District. The event aims to revive and keep the spark of Cyprus's culture alive with a glimpse of village life traditions, music and dances.
Shakespeare Festival, Kourion. Kourion ancient amphitheatre makes the perfect venue for the summer Shakespeare festival. Kourion is also used for concerts and performances of internationally-known artists such us Vanessa Mae, Vicky Leondros and Nana Mouskouri.
August the month for holidays…The majority of the businesses and offices close for minimum to weeks for the summer vacations and head straight to the beautiful Cyprus seaside or those who aim for colder, fresh breeze head to the the Troodos Mountains. All year through, churches and individuals celebrate their ‘Name Days’ as most Cypriots have been named after a particular Saint. On the Name Day of its Saint, the church holds a ‘panayiri’ which is a festival. In days gone by, the Panayiris were sizeable, attracting craftspeople from all over the island but most are much smaller these days. The two biggest Name Days in Cyprus are the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15 August and 30 November, Saint Andrew’s Day (you will notice that there are hundreds of Cypriot men named Andreas!).
Ayia Napa Festival is a lively event in the beautiful holiday resort featuring traditional Cypriot music and dances, theatre, concerts with Cypriot, Greek and international artists and plenty of family entertainment.
Commandaria Festival. Visit the mountainous wine villages of Kourris Valley and celebrate the start of the grape harvest. Join and taste the delicious sweet wine Commandaria.
Limassol Wine Festival. The end of August is a fun time to be in Limassol because the Limassol Wine Festival takes place in the town’s Municipal Gardens along the sea-front near the old town! The festival which began in 1961 to help promote the island’s wines is the largest of Cyprus Festivals. The festival celebrates the rich history of wine production in Cyprus with traditional music, dancing, traditional Cypriot food and of course unlimited wine.
Throughout September the grapes are harvested and as the harvest is completed in each village there is usually a party to celebrate with plenty of singing and dancing! Another important crop is harvested at this time – carobs. Carobs used to be known as ‘the black gold of Cyprus’ and they were such a lucrative export. Today some are still exported and in late September the village of Anoyira holds its Pastelli Festival to celebrate another successful harvest.
International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama in Pafos is a renowned cultural event which takes place in August with theatre performances of ancient playwritters such us Aristophanes, Sophocles and Evripides.
KYPRIA Festival is also one of the most significant cultural events in Cyprus with performances including ballet, theatre, arts, cinema, opera and music with distinguished artists from Cyprus and around the world.
Pafos Aphrodite Opera Festival takes place in September, a month after the Ancient Greek drama festival, in a magical atmosphere in front of the Pafos Medieval Castle. The opera festival included performances by esteemed, worldwide known casts. This popular autumn event is one of the highlights of Cyprus's cultural calender where classical opera lovers experience three days of love, passion and tragedy under the stars.
1 October, Cyprus Independence Day. Celebrating 01 October 1960 when Cyprus gained independence from the British and the creation of Cyprus as an independence, democratic state.
28 October, Greek National Day. Celebrating the 'Ohi' (meaning No) day with parades and traditional dancing. The day commemorates the famous negative reply by the Greece’s Prime Minister Metaxas to Mussolini in 1940 after the later demanded the surrender of Greece.
25 December, Christmas. Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with church services, Christmas carols and events and glamorous parties. The second most important festival in the Greek Orthodox calendar. Christmas is not as commercialised as it is in other European countries and is still very much a family time. Christmas cake was first brought to Cyprus by the British at the end of the 19th century and tastes very different to the British version as the fruit used is glyka tou koutaliou (preserved fruits in syrup) and the cake is decorated with homemade marzipan. As another year draws to an end, whilst the warm sunny days do not feel very Christmassy, cold evenings spent in front of a roaring log fire certainly do!...