Cyprus – A European Christmas Story

At the beginning of December the Christmas tree is decorated, which has become one of the most beloved and well-known holiday symbols. They also hang Christmas stockings for Santa Claus to put some sweets in them!

For many Cypriots the holiday is preceded by a time of fasting. For Cyprus, the season is full swing by December 6th, the Feast of St. Nicholas, and will last through January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany.

One of the most important ways Cyprus celebrates Christmas is through food. An enormous amount of cooking and hard work starts to prepare the food for Christmas.

Some popular foods at Christmas in Cyprus are stuffed turkey which has become more popular in recent years or the traditional Souvla made with lamb or pork cooked on the traditional Cypriot BBQ over charcoals. For sweets there are the delicious Kourabiedes – small almond cakes coated in icing sugar, melomakarona – honey cakes and Finikia – walnut cakes.

Over the Christmas period pomegranates are eaten and used for decoration.  Pomegranates symbolise joyous times, good fortune, fertility and prosperity.

Christmas in Cyprus are pretty much like any other country. In the past years, there have been a few Christmas traditions such as girls sitting in front of the fireplace and throwing in the fire an olive branch to see if there loved one loved them back, and if the branch got turned it meant that he loved them back.

Many of the children go from house to house singing seasonal carols.

Traditional Christmas songs that are played worldwide are translated in Greek. They usually play them when decorating the Christmas tree or when they have gatherings.

The last 12 days before Christmas are considered to be the most dangerous, and so to protect the home the hostess will hang over the door an Olive or Basil branch which has been wrapped around the cross and sprinkled with holy water, to scare off evil spirits.

There are a lot of Christmas markets held in the most crowded places like shopping malls and main roads where people can buy stuff, listen to music and have a few drinks and food. A basic Christmas snack includes chestnuts baked on the fireplace which are essentials on a cozy night.

A personal story:

By Andrea Philippou

Q1. What do you have for Christmas dinner?

On Christmas Day most people go to church and the the night before Christmas we have Cypriot barbecue and a ton of friends and family over. We play board games all night accompanied with sometime of alcoholic drink but always within limits. Christmas day there is the Christmas lunch where we have our traditional sweets, Melomakarona and Kourambiedes.

Q2. What is your fondest memory of Christmas?

My fondest memory of Christmas is not even on Christmas Day it is on New Year’s. It was a few years ago when we woke up to fully snowed country and it was like a dream.

Q3. What types of presents do you get from friends and family?

In Cyprus, most people don’t get their presents until the New Years because that’s when Santa Claus is believed to come. We would always be at someone else’s house on New Year’s Eve and by the time the new year came we would come home and open our gifts before going to bed. We would usually get things we wanted mostly games or electronic consoles. On the day of New Year’s, we cut the Vasilopitta a cake specified on Santa Claus where we cut pieces from the older member of the family to the youngest. In vasilopitta there is a hidden coin which whoever is lucky to get means that he will be lucky for the entire year. My favourite gift ever was when I got my first piano.  

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