by Shemaine Bushnell Kyriakides
As an American Roman Catholic, I thought I had the whole Easter celebration thing down pat. I mean, I grew up with the Easter bunny and chocolate eggs, and I knew all about the Stations of the Cross and Good Friday services. But when I landed in Cyprus, I realized I was in for a whole new ballgame - and not just because of the lack of chocolate bunnies and peeps. Orthodox Easter here is a whole different animal, or should I say a whole different egg.
Gone were the multi-colored Easter eggs of my youth. Instead, the eggs were all painted a deep red. And let me tell you, it was not a shade that complemented any decor. Legend has it that Mary Magdalene brought eggs to share with the other women at the tomb of Jesus on the morning of his resurrection. When they saw him rise from the dead, his blood spilled onto the eggs, turning them red. So I held back my critical comments and embraced the deeper meaning.
But the real shocker came when I found out that the midnight mass was where it was at. In my Catholic upbringing, Easter mass was a leisurely morning affair. But in Cyprus, the Orthodox Easter mass happens just before midnight. And it is a whole new experience, let me tell you. The candlelit church and the solemn service are a beautiful reminder that Easter is not just about the bunny - it's a time for reflection and contemplation.
After the service, the streets are filled with people holding candles lit by the holy light. It's a beautiful sight to see, but it can also lead to some shenanigans. I once saw a friend drive up to the church just in time to stick her candle out the window for a passerby to light it. I guess she wanted to avoid getting too reflective and contemplative.
But for me, the real magic of Easter in Cyprus happens the next day when families come together and celebrate with a feast of biblical proportions cooked up in kitchens and backyards. And the star of the show….I'm talking about the souvla, people. It’s that special time of year when souvla experts strut their stuff. Some people even joke that if you're flying into Cyprus on Easter Sunday, you would think that there were thousands of fires burning on the island because of all the smoke rising from souvla grills. And though I’m not a big fan of lamb, the meat is so good that the aroma can lure me in from miles away! Talk about a powerful smell.
The feast on Easter Sunday also has a special meaning. It marks the end of the 40-day-long fast that many religious people do in the lead-up to Easter, bringing them spiritual growth and strength. The Easter feast is a way of breaking the fast and celebrating the end of the period of self-denial, not to mention giving thanks to the heavens above that the fast is finally over.
But to experience the best Easter in Cyprus, you must head to the villages. I had one of the best celebrations in the village of Arodes in Paphos. The villagers are the epitome of hospitality, inviting people to share in their food and their traditions. It's a beautiful thing to see so many people coming together to celebrate the holiday and remember its significance.
The Easter feast is a time-honored tradition in Cyprus and is steeped in symbolism and meaning. From the painted red eggs to the midnight mass, each aspect of the celebration is an important part of the Orthodox faith. And while it may be different from what I'm used to, I've come to appreciate the deep-rooted traditions of the Orthodox faith and the unique flavor that Easter in Cyprus has to offer. It's a time for families to come together, enjoy great food, and reflect on the true meaning of the holiday, the reason for the season. And who knows, maybe next year, I'll be cooking up my own souvla and inviting the whole village over. Hey, a girl can dream.