Even though Christmas is just a few weeks away temperatures are unseasonably warm (in the ’30s) making it hardly feel like Christmas despite the festivities that are beginning to take place. Paphos town, for the first time, has a Christmas wonderland and even an ice skating rink set up by the town hall. Christmas fairs are being held and everyone is getting extra busy. As Christmas day approaches the mad rush to buy presents, prepare food, send cards and be jolly can make anyone exhausted even in the slower-paced life of Cyprus. In Cyprus, Christmas has become more commercialized with shops well decorated, stocked and extending their shopping hours. The towns are also well decorated with Father Christmas statues, snowmen, angels and lights in the town and throughout the villages. And, even though Easter is the bigger of the two events Christmas and New Year is not to be downplayed with many unique customs, foods, and traditions.
For many Cypriots, Christmas is preceded by fasting. The season begins on December 6th, the Feast of St. Nicholas and ends on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany. Christmas is celebrated as a religious holiday and on Christmas Eve people go to church and many children go from house to house singing carols or “kalanda” which have been passed down from Byzantine times.
Goblin-like and mischievous little sprites known as “kalikantzari” are said to prey upon people causing mischief during the 12 days of Xmas. Although not done as much as in the past, some people “protect themselves” by wrapping a sprig of basil around a cross and then sprinkling it with holy water. The water is then sprinkled in each room throughout the 12 days of Christmas.
In the past, children used to get their gifts on New Years Day since Father Christmas is “Agios Vasilis” or St. Basil who was celebrated on New Years Day with the special cake “Vasilopita.” Mothers would leave the cake with a candle on it and a goblet of wine for him – he would drink the wine, bless the cake then leave the gifts. Most people now exchange and receive presents on Christmas Day. The New Year’s cake is still widely sold in bakeries or made in homes to be cut on New Years Day or Eve. The cake is not very sweet but has one gold coin in it – whoever gets the piece of cake with the coin in it is said to have good luck all year.
Some other popular foods at Christmas in Cyprus are Stuffed turkey which has become more popular in recent years or the traditional souvla made with lamb or pork cooked on the traditional Cypriot BBQ over charcoals. For sweets, there are the delicious Kourabiedes – small almond cakes coated in icing sugar, melomakarona – honey cakes and Finikia – walnut cakes.
Whatever you choose to do in Cyprus over your Christmas holidays enjoy and have a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous, healthy and Happy New Year 2011!!