Facts about Cyprus

Area: 9,251 sq km
Capital: Nicosia
Language: Greek, Turkish
Currency: Euro
  Turkish Lira
Population: 784,301
Coastline: 648 sq km

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Public Holidays in South Cyprus

In the south part of Cyprus there is a near-complete overlap between religious and bank holidays. Most of the Greek orthodox religious days are also public holidays for the rest of the Christian minorities, like Armenians, Catholics, Maronites and others. If the dates fall on Sunday, the following Monday is usually a public holiday – in the case of Easter, the subsequent Tuesday is a bank holiday as well, as is Good Friday and part of Maundy Thursday. Almost all public services and most private enterprises and shops are closed on public holidays.

January 1 - New Year's Day

New Year’s Day in Cyprus is also marked as the feast day of Áyios Vassílios (St Basil). The evening before, in most homes the cake (vasilópitta) is baked containing a coin that brings good luck to the person finding it in their slice. St Basil is also the Cypriot equivalent of Santa Claus and presents are exchanged on this day, not at Christmas. New Year’s Eve is also celebrated with drinking, singing, dancing, or playing cards. In towns and particularly in villages people attend church in the morning of the New Year’s Day.

January 6 – Epiphany Day

In the Orthodox Church, Epiphany is associated with the baptism of Christ in the Jordan and the conjunction of the Holy Trinity. The Greek name fóta meaning lights refers to the resulting inner illumination. In churches holy water fonts are usually blessed to banish the kalikándzari demons who are believed to run amok on earth after Christmas. As a final stage, at seaside locations after the morning service the local bishop heads a procession to the sea to bless the water and he throws a crucifix into the sea where young divers swim to find it.

March - Green Monday or Clean (Lent) Monday

Clean Monday is celebrated forty days before Easter Day. It is the beginning of Lent and almost every family goes out to the countryside for the picnic. In rural areas it also symbolizes the abstention from animal products for the believers. It comes at the end of the ten days of Carnival Day, the occasion for fancy dress balls and parades. In Limassol, Pafos and other towns and big villages, people parade in the streets disguised and dressed in fancy costumes.

March 25 - Greek Independence Day; the Annunciation

This is marked as a dual holiday, both secular and religious. It is a major Greek national day billed as Greek Independence Day. In 1821 Greeks rose up against the oppressive Ottoman Empire which had occupied Greece for nearly four hundred years. Ending in successful war of independence, bishop Germanos of Patras boldly hoisted the Greek flag at the monastery of Agia Lavras, inciting the Peloponnese to revolt against the oppressors. Today it is associated with the parades in the streets of South Cyprus. Although the date was not probably March 25th, it occurred in late March and was symbolically associated with the religious feast of the Annunciation or Evangelismós. On this day it is celebrated Archangel Gabriel’s annunciation to Virgin Mary and the actual incarnation of Jesus Christ – the word of the Angel made flesh in her womb.

April 1 - Greek Cypriot National Day

The day commemorates the anniversary of the start of the liberation struggle of the Greek Cypriots against British colonial rule in 1955. On this day secondary school pupils as well as students of higher institutes attend church services.

April 29 - Greek Orthodox Good Friday

Easter belongs to the most important holiday for the Greek Cypriots and starts early in Holy week in April. The most conspicuous customs are the dyeing red of hard-boiled eggs on Maundy Thursday, the baking of special holiday cakes such as flaoúnes, which actually breaks the Lenten fast with their egg-and-cheese content. On Good Friday eve the solemn procession of the Epitáfios or Christ’s funeral is held in each parish with the floral decoration and after the procession the solemn service and chanting follow.
On Saturday evening huge bonfires (lambrádjia) are set giving rise to the word Lambrí, the alias for Easter in Cypriot dialect, before the spectacular midnight Anástasi or Resurrection mass. Things calm down temporarily at midnight service when the priest appears from behind the altar screen bearing a lighted candle and the news of eternal life for believers. Soon the church interiors and courtyards are illuminated with the candle flame passing from worshipper to worshipper.

May 1 - Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday; Labour Day

Church service is also held on Sunday mid-day. During this day the Lenten fast is broken with avgolémono soup and family members in towns and villages crack their red-dyed eggs against each other. The owner of the last unbroken egg wins. Apart from the eggs cracking, traditional dancing and various local games are carried out. Good Friday, Good Saturday as well as Monday after Easter are public holidays.
The first day of May is also celebrated not only by workers, but by all Cypriots as a Labour Day.

May/June - Pentecost (Kataklysmos)

Kataklysmos (Deluge) or the Festival of Flood is held fifty days after Easter and is unique to South Cyprus. The festival is believed to commemorate the salvation of Noah and his family from the Flood but it is likely a vestige of an old pagan rite in honour of Aphrodite’s birth, or perhaps her purification after sleeping with Adonis. At all coastal towns, people crowd into the sea and sprinkle each other with water and children collect water in washbasin and then pour it on their friends or any passer-by. A special pump from reeds known as pitsikla is used for casting of the water. On this occasion nobody complains to get wet. In coastal towns, after the morning service the bishop accompanied by the crowd, proceeds to the coast to throw the Cross into the sea. Divers subsequently retrieve it. Whit Monday is regarded as a day of purification through water, not only for people but even for the sacred utensils, like the Cross which is thrown into the sea. The celebration usually lasts three days, until the night on Whit Monday. This festival has a great cultural significance during which contests of dancers, singers, and folk poets are carried out.

August 15 - Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The feast day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (also called the Feast of the Dormition), is a religious holiday celebrating the miracle of Virgin Mary who in bodily form ascended into Heaven after her death.

October 1 - Cyprus Independence Day

Cyprus became an independent country after a four year guerrilla war (1955-1959) against the British army. The island was the on the whole a colonial country of the British Empire since 1878 until October 1st of 1960, this date celebrated as an Independence Day. This day is accompanied with festivals at schools and communities and a big military parade takes place in the main towns of Cyprus, particularly in Nicosia in front of the Republic and other Officials.

October 28 - Ochi Day (Greek National Day)

This day has a significant importance and is considered a Greek National Day. It is also known as an Ochi or No Day, because on that day the Greeks refused Mussolini’s demand in 1940 to enter Greek territory. The celebration is accompanied with the parade of veterans as well as school pupils in the streets, carrying the flags as well as their school banners.

December 24-26 – Christmas

As the European-style commercialization has come to Cyprus, Christmas (Khristoúyenna) in Cyprus remains relatively subdued. It starts on 24th December, on Christmas Eve and the next day, on 25th of December, marked as Christmas Day, the annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ is held. The celebration of Christmas in Cyprus is traditionally a solemn, religious holiday. The following day, 26th of December, also called a Boxing Day, is also a public holiday. Among the most durable old custom belongs that of the kálanda or Christmas carols which are sung by children going door-to-door and in the kitchens one can smell a sweet aroma of melomakarona cookies. However, gifts exchanging is made on New Year’s Day.

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