Coinciding with the arrival of the first spring swallows, treasured traditions take centre stage in Cyprus each year in the lead-up to Easter.
A time of peace and reverence, when the wild poppies bloom and the skies give way to serene shades of blue, Easter in Cyprus makes for a particularly special experience for even the most seasoned of travellers.
And, luckily, there are no shortage of occasions in which travellers could engage in better acquainting themselves with one of the most important cornerstones of Cyprus’ culture.
Mirroring the trials endured by Jesus in the desert for 40 days, the Lenten period is marked by fasting, with people island-wide abstaining from eating meat and dairy.
In bidding adieu to these luxuries, a series of events are celebrated in the lead up to the first day of Lent, aptly named ‘Clean Monday’ (also known as ‘Green Monday’), which falls this year on March 15th. These celebrations collectively form the so-called ‘Carnival Season’.
Ten days before Clean Monday, Tsiknopempti is observed. Loosely translated as ‘smoky Thursday’, many a local may be spied on this day taking to the streets with their barbecues in tow to grill meats galore in getting their fill before Lent. The subsequent Cheesefare Sunday – as the name suggests – serves a similar (albeit dairy-directed) purpose!
Come the eve of Green Monday, large carnival parades are held throughout the island, complete with elaborate costumes, singing and dancing.
Green Monday itself is fittingly subdued following the revelry of the preceding weeks. Families and friends gather in fields and along the coast to picnic and fly colourful kites. Fresh, seasonal vegetables (such as artichoke, radish, kohlrabi, and beetroot) are served, along with special Lenten bread known as lagana, and barbecued shellfish.
Once the day of Easter – or Pascha – arrives (this year falling on Sunday, May 2nd), families gather again, this time to break the Lenten fast and share the good news: the bidding Christos anesti (or ‘Christ has risen’) is met with alithos anesti (‘he has risen indeed’). Dyed red eggs are used in a festive game of tsoungrisma, whereby players tap each other’s eggs – the player with the last egg ‘standing’ and intact is the winner!