Northern Cyprus does share some Greek Cypriot holidays, but they also have off many holidays that coincide with Turkish national holidays as well.
New Year’s Day (January 1): Cyprus celebrates the coming of the New Year like most other countries, with lavish parties that go until the early hours of the morning, with a lot of drinking and special foods. Many Cypriots do make New Year’s Resolutions as well (I wonder if they’re any more successful than I am; mine usually last for about 3-4 weeks if I’m lucky. I even fail at the resolution of not making resolutions since I just made one.) Many families leave their Christmas trees up until after the New Year, and many people exchange gifts on New Years. In fact many people belief (especially if you’re part of the Greek Orthodox church) that Ayios Vassilis (or St. Basil) visits families on January 1 to deliver gifts. One tradition is to bake a sweet bread with a coin in it, and whoever got the coin in their slice was the lucky one! It could also be used for things like the dental bill you get after biting into the coin.
Epiphany (January 6): This day has two special events in Christian traditions: the day that the three kings finally arrived to see the baby Jesus, and the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. There’s also a festival common in Cyprus and in Greece called the Blessing of the Waters, which is basically end of the ban on sailing and the cleansing of the seas of these evil goblins who live in the sea tormenting “god-fearing Christians” during the festive seasons (if this were in the US, it would probably just be pollution as the cause). Part of this ceremony is to throw a cross into the waters, and men jump in and frantically look for it; whoever finds it is the lucky one.
Clean Monday (varies): Taking place seven weeks before Easter, it’s a day where people throw out their sinful ways and attitudes and stop eating foods that aren’t recommended during fasting. Sometimes it’s referred to as Ash Monday, in reference to Ash Wednesday in the Western churches as the beginning of the Lent season. In Cyprus and Greece, many people eat more shellfish during this time, and they bake a special bread on this day called lagana bread. A lot of people celebrate this outside, and kite flying is especially popular.
Greek Independence Day (March 25): This day celebrates the start of Cyprus’ fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire, fully gaining independence from them in 1832 (eleven years after this started). Many of the larger cities and towns will hold festivals, showcasing historical and cultural displays. It’s also called Greek Revolution Day.
Cyprus National Day (April 1): Also called Greek Cypriot Day or locally known as EOKA day. (EOKA is an abbreviation that becomes National Organization of the Cypriot Struggle when translated into English, which was an underground group organized for the push toward independence from the British and to rejoin with Greece [this rejoining with Greece is called enosis – I see this term a lot, and it’s a new one for me].) It marks the beginning of the guerilla war aimed at the British (both the military and the civilians). It later turned its aim toward the Greek and Turkish Cypriots who were felt to be informers and collaborators. Generally, there are memorials held for those who were killed as a result. And for most people, they use this day as an excuse to head to the beach to have lunch and enjoy the sun and waves for an afternoon.
Good Friday (varies): Before Good Friday even gets here, people have been fairly busy during the Holy Week already, especially the women. Traditionally, the Thursday of Holy Week is spent baking traditional breads and a type of cheesecake filled with a cheese, egg, and mint filling (sorry, I’m drooling on my computer) as well as making the traditionally red-dyed Easter eggs (which make them look like tomatoes). On Good Friday, everyone takes flowers to the church and the kids, especially the young girls, decorate the Holy Sepulcher, called Epitafios. Many people will also eat a vinegar and lentil soup, since it’s been written in the Bible that the guards gave Jesus vinegar to drink instead of water. There are also processions of the ornately flower-decorated Epitafios, and each parish will compare theirs to others.
Easter Saturday (varies): Generally a quite day, many people attend a mass that is held during the day. One tradition is that during this mass, they bang the doors and shake the candleholders and make noise to signify the moment when it was announced Jesus was no longer in his grave. However, most people attend the sermon around midnight, where they take with them candles and fireworks. Churches will light a huge bon fire in the churchyard and people will greet each other with “Christ is Risen.” Christ may have been risen, but I’m pretty sure if it’s starting at midnight, I’ll be looking for a corner to curl up and sleep in.
Easter Sunday (varies): The vast majority of people attend a special Easter Sunday mass in the morning, partaking in Holy Communion. Children play a game with the Easter eggs where they hit the eggs against each other, and the one whose egg cracks loses AND you have to give up your egg to the winner. It’s like the show Pinks: All Out for Easter eggs. Huge lunches are held with family and friends in celebration of the end of fasting, complete with a lot of roasted lamb and wine (this is MY kind of meal). Games, dances, and jokes fill up the rest of the afternoon. Followed by more eating and drinking and a food coma.
Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday (varies): For some people, many of the same celebrations also take place on Easter Monday and Easter Tuesday as well: large gatherings of family and friends, games, music, dancing, eating, drinking, and relaxing. Some towns may hold community festivals as well.
Labour Day (May 1): Also called May Day, it’s a day to celebrate the worker and to address labor issues in Cyprus. It’s usually a time when you’ll hear from the heads of state regarding the state of labor. Some of the issues at hand include unemployment and pay equality between the genders.
Pentecost Monday (varies): Also called Whit Monday, named after the white robes that are worn by the newly baptized on this day. The holiday falls 50 days after Easter. While some people choose to attend a special mass on this day, most others use this day as a day of relaxation.
Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15): Known as the Assumption of Mary in the Western church (and especially the Catholic Church), it is known as the Dormition of the Theotokos in the Greek Orthodox church, and is essentially celebrating the same thing. (Theotokos is the mother of Jesus.) There are festivals held that last for days and attending special church services are involved as well.
Cyprus Independence Day (October 1): After four years of war with Britain, Cyprus finally gained its independence in 1960. Schools, government offices, and many stores are closed on this day to celebrate their country’s independence. Most towns and cities will hold parades and speeches by government officials, along with festivities that last the entire day filled with traditional foods, drinks, cultural displays, dancing, music, games, sports, and parties.
Greek National Day (October 28): On this day (which happens to be my birthday) in 1940, Italy had sent a request to Greek general Ioannis Metaxas to be able to cross the country en route to Russia, but his answer of “No” wasn’t taken very well, to say the least. (The word for “no” in Greek is “ochi,” which is why sometimes this day is referred to as Ochi Day – also seen spelled as Ohi or Oxi.) The Italians pretty much did what they wanted to in the first place, invading Greece and dragging them into the war. The day is celebrated with parades, festivals, and church services.
Christmas Eve / Christmas Day (December 24-25): The Christmas season is a very important time of year for Cypriots. On Christmas Eve, you’ll often hear children caroling from house to house with the accompaniment of a triangle and sometimes a flute in hopes of receiving coins or candy. Since the days of the British, turkeys are a popular dinner item served with many of the same foods that Americans identify with the Thanksgiving meal. People would put up Christmas trees on Christmas Eve and decorate them during the afternoon. However, the tradition of waking up to presents comes on New Year’s Day, not Christmas Day. It’s also a time to bake traditional sweet breads, pastries, and other delights.
Boxing Day (December 26): Definitely a holiday introduced by the British, many businesses are closed on this day, and some are closed on the next day as well. Some people may even consider Boxing Day as an extension of the Christmas holiday. Originally, this was a day where servants and tradesmen would get Christmas gifts from their employers in boxes, but nowadays, people generally use this day to relax and shop if there are any stores still open.
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