It may be spring recess in some parts of the world, but it is almost the end of Holy Week in Cyprus where people get ready for Saturday midnight mass and Easter Sunday celebrations. Tradition mixed with good food and some dangerous customs blend together to make what Cypriots call Easter holidays.
Easter holidays are predominantly celebrated by Greek Cypriots on the island, many of whom follow the Orthodox tradition either in villages or towns. During Holy Week, church services mark the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as well as his resurrection.
On Holy Saturday evening, the resurrection mass takes place where at midnight it becomes an open air mass. At that point, the church becomes dark and the priest comes out form the altar holding a candle. The priest proclaims “Christ is risen” (Christos Anesti) and the light from his candle, known as the holy light, is then shared with other churchgoers who bring their own candles. They then carefully take home the light of the Resurrection, where traditionally a midnight soup is served called magiritsa.
Teenagers were using local supermarket carts to carry stolen wood from construction sites in order to set up their bonfire
Police and fire fighters are on high alert on Saturday night, as many incidents and accidents are reported, involving fires out of control and firecracker injuries.
In both urban and rural areas, locals gather around a huge bonfire typically in the church yard but also school yards and empty lots. Local children typically begin gathering wood a few days early, often taking it from neighbours and even stealing from construction sites or public schools. They stack the wood metres high, where at midnight they burn an effigy of Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus according to their faith.
Lambradjia bonfires are facing criticism as being “out of control” but a sense of upholding tradition makes the issue more complicated in an island where people observe old customs.
Size does matter
Big rivalries between neighbourhoods often play out during this part of the year, as groups of local youth try to compete with others by trying to have the biggest bonfire.
Locals who do not take part in the bonfires often have to put up with extreme loud noise from the firecrackers, not only on Saturday but days and even weeks prior to Easter. But a certain degree of tolerance is often shown by police.
Many accidents where people lost their lives or were seriously injured also have played a role in members of the public raising their voice against what they see as a dangerous custom.
Five teenagers were arrested on Friday in Nicosia in connection with theft, after police learned they were using local supermarket carts to carry stolen wood from construction sites in order to set up their bonfire. Their parents or legal guardians were called down to the station to bail them out.
On Easter Sunday, celebrations take on a different tone with the smell of traditional barbecue "souvla" filling the air in all villages and towns. People take pride in their souvla, which is basically lamb on the spit with lots of herbs and spices marinated into the meat along with plenty of lemon juice.
Even though Cypriots enjoy souvla throughout the year, typically on Sundays, this traditional meal takes special meaning on Easter Sunday and marks the end of fasting or Greek Orthodox Lent.
There are also many customs and games on Easter Sunday for children and adults, including the popular egg cracking “tsougrisma” and games such as egg race, sack race, rope, and ziziros.