Easter may be a thing from last week in some parts of the world, but it is almost the end of Holy Week in the Republic Cyprus where people get ready for Saturday midnight mass and Easter Sunday celebrations.
Greek Cypriots are known to mix religion and tradition with good food and some rather dangerous customs around this time every year.
Greek Cypriots are known to mix religion and tradition with good food and some rather dangerous customs around this time every year
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 it reaches a point at midnight where it becomes an open air mass in pitch darkness. The priest comes out from the altar holding a candle, proclaiming “Christos Anesti” (Christ is risen). Children are told that the light from his candle, known as the holy light, is to be shared among believers who bring their own candles. They then carefully take home the light of the Resurrection, where traditionally a midnight soup is served called magiritsa.
Police and fire fighters are on high alert on Saturday night, as many incidents and accidents are reported every year, involving fires out of control and firecracker injuries. While any type of fireworks are illegal, locals often manage to have some fun with firecrackers with cops trying to curb the illegal behaviour in residential areas or urban settings.
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.
Police have already made arrests in previous days where officers detained youngsters on loitering charges and possession of illegal fireworks. While illegal lambradjia bonfires are facing criticism for getting out of hand, a sense of upholding tradition makes the issue more complicated in an island where people observe old customs. This is particularly challenging especially on Holy Saturday when virtually every locality with a church community has some type of celebration.
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. While residents may complain and cops are known to respond to a number of incidents, a certain degree of tolerance is shown by police if the situation is not deemed dangerous.
But 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 and unnecessary custom.
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. A traditional pastry called "flaouna" also features during Easter holidays.
There are also many customs and games on Easter Sunday for children and adults, including the popular “tsougrisma” egg cracking and games such as egg race, sack race, rope, and ziziros.