Cyprus Traditions & Culture

Cyprus maintains a traditional culture with the family at its heart. Families are usually large, especially when aunts, uncles, cousins are added in and remain very close. And they will all meet regularly at a family members home for a family feast of some description.

Orthodox Easter

Unlike the Christian Easter, Orthodox Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon of the vernal equinox, so the date varies each year. The observance of Easter generally last for five days, from Good Friday, through to the following Tuesday. On Easter Saturday, everybody heads for the churches for the midnight sermon.

On leaving the church candles are lit and fire crackers set off, while bonfires are lit (see image above). It is customary for a small doll representing Judas Iscariot to be burnt. These events mark the end of fasting and people go home to eat traditional Cypriot Easter Soup and flaounes, which are traditional Easter cheese pastries.

Easter Sunday is a day of rejoicing, feasting, drinking, singing and cracking of red dyed eggs. The idea of the eggs is to tap your egg hard against your opponents egg, and the person who holds the last uncracked egg will be lucky. The tradition of dying the eggs red is to symbolize the blood that Christ shed on the cross at the crucifixion. The cracking of the egg symbolise the opening of the Tomb and the resurrection of Christ.

Most major shops and businesses will close during the Easter period.

Cyprus Food

Food is at the centre of many Cypriot customs and traditions. A regular Sunday family meal is Souvla, where large pieces of pork are slowly cooked on a spit for up to three hours.

There are many traditional foods made and eaten at certain times of the year. At Easter, Cypriots make a specific type of bread or pastry called Flaouna which is made to celebrate the breaking of fasting period during Lent. They are made with pastry, cheese and often have raisons and sesame seeds and are traditionally prepared on the Good Friday and eaten on Easter Sunday.

For Christmas a cake called Vasilopita is baked and hidden inside it there will be a coin which supposedly brings good luck to the person who receives it.

Green Monday is a feast that occurs at the beginning of the 7th week before Orthodox Easter Sunday. It is marked by the family getting together and eating  typical fasting foods, such as fish, vegetables, salads, dips and breads. On Green Monday, a special type of bread is made called Lagana.

And then there are the many other food items which are made and consumed, year round. Cyprus is well known for Halloumi, Ouzo, Mousaka, Koupepia which is meat and rice wrapped in vine leaves.

You can find out more about Cyprus Cuisine by following the link.

Cyprus Weddings

These are very traditional and you can read all about them by following this link to Cyprus Weddings.

Death

Following the death of a Cypriot there are many traditions that are followed. First of all the funeral will take place within a few days due to the temperatures in the summer months. In Greek Orthodox religion, the period of mourning is 40-days during which there are a number of memorial days, marked on the third day, the ninth day and the fortieth day. After this there are memorial days after six months and one year after. Family members may choose to wear black for the 40-day mourning period while many widows and widowers, particularly the older generations, will wear only black after their partner has passed.

Kompoloi

Kompoloi, often referred to as 'worry beads' are a familiar sight in the hands of many Cypriot men and increasingly women. The word komboloi incorporates the word kombos, meaning the knot. These knots and the beans on them running through fingers are said to reduce stress and to be more than just a means of passing time. They are certainly relaxing, with the sound of the beads clicking together combined with the feel of the smooth beads between ones fingers.

Plate Smashing

The smashing of plates is an old Greek tradition which spread to Cyprus. At weddings and other parties and celebrations, plates are traditionally thrown to the floor and smashed whilst singing and dancing.

It is said this custom is an expression of 'Kefi', a hard-to-translate word which has been described as meaning the spirit of joy, passion, enthusiasm, high spirits, or frenzy that must find an outlet.

However this tradition has also now mostly been replaced with the throwing of flowers.

Tuesday 13th

Unlike the western belief, in Cyprus the unlucky day is Tuesday the 13th, and not Friday the 13th.

Evil Eye

Some Cypriots believe that someone can catch the evil eye, or 'matiasma', from someone else’s jealous compliment or envy. The wearing of a little blue marble glass with an eye painted on it or a blue bracelet is said to ward off evil eye. Failing that an old lady, known for her healing, can recite a secret prayer to cast off the evil eye.

Kallikantzaroi - Christmas Goblins

Kallikantzaroi are supposed goblin-like creatures that live in the center of the earth, and find their way into people’s homes via the chimney. Cypriots believe that they make all kinds of mischief such as dousing the fire, riding on people’s backs, braiding the tails of horses and making the milk sour. It is believed that they visit only at Christmas time.

In order to keep the Kallikantzaroi away, the hearth is kept burning day and night throughout the twelve days of Christmas. As well as this, a family member will go around the house every day during these twelve days and bless the house, whilst sprinkling holy water around, for protection.

Name Days

Birthdays are not a major celebrated event in Cyprus, however Name Days are. Children rarely have modern names as used in the UK and are typically given Christian names after the Patron Saint of their region. The eldest son is often named after his paternal grandfather, and the eldest daughter after her paternal grandmother. Because of this tradition, you will often find cousins with the same name.

The Name Day is the feast day of the saint after which a child was named. Some Saint's Name Days actually get celebrated more than once a year.

Traditionally, a party will be held on a person's Name Day, with a barbeque and buffet along with singing, dancing and drinking.

Panigiria

As each Greek Orthodox Church is named after a saint there will be celebrations on its Name Day, known as 'Panigiria'. The celebrations will include food, fireworks and stall-holders may gather in the grounds of the patron saint's church to sell local delicacies.

Hospitality

At restaurants, it is usual to be given a complimentary glass of Ouzo or Zivania or traditional desert at the end of your meal. It is best to accept these and at least take a small sip or bite to please the owner. They take it very personally if you decline.

Tavli

In Cyprus table top board games are called Tavli. There are three major variants, portes, plakoto, and fevga. Portes is like backgammon, with minor variations: there is no doubling cube, and a backgammon counts only as a gammon (called diplo, Greek for double). Plakoto is very similar to mahbusa (imprisoned) or tapa, while fevga is similar to narde or the Turkish variant moultezim. The three are normally played consecutively, in three, five or seven-point matches. There are other variants like Sfaktes which means slayers.

Tavli used to be the preserve of only men who could always be seen playing the game and sipping coffee in their local Greek Kafenion. But times have changed and many women now enjoy playing tavli with friends in local cafes, especially in the cities and towns. However, in villages a kafenion - the local village gathering place and a traditional refuge of the Cypriot male and the nearest thing to a UK pub - is still looked upon as the gathering place for men where they can play card games.