Easter is the most important religious celebration in the Greek Christian Orthodox Church.
Thursday of Holy Week is when the wonderful aromas begin to drift out into the streets as this is traditionally the day when housewives start preparing the ‘flaounes’, ‘paskies’, ‘koulouria’ and ‘tiropites’. Eggs are hard boiled and dyed red in preparation for the traditional festive games on Sunday.
On the Friday morning before Easter (“Good Friday” ) families carrying flowers, gather in all the churches around the island. The flowers are collected and carried by young girls to decorate the ‘Epitaphios’ during the church service. The Epitaphios is the icon which depicts Christ after he has been removed from the cross, lying supine, as his body is being prepared for burial.
On Easter Saturday two services are held in the church – one early in morning and another at 11 p.m.
The church services start at 11 pm. and few minutes before midnight, the lights in the church are switched off and the choir chants the story of three women (myrrh bearers) who arrived at Christ’s tomb only to find it empty. The lights are switched on again at midnight precisely and the priest calls the congregation to “take from his candle the light which never dies.” The flame is passed from person to person until everyone is holding a lit candle.
The eggs which were hardboiled and dyed on Thursday are now used in a game where they are hit against each other and whoever is left with an un-cracked egg is the ‘winner’. The breaking of the eggs is symbolic of Christ breaking free from the tomb from where he arose after death.
Easter Sunday is when the celebrations really begin. Feasts of souvla (large pieces of lamb or pork, or chicken are cooked on an open charcoal fire), salads, cakes, sweets, and alcoholic beverages are also on the menu! The smell of outdoor barbeques infuses the whole island! Lamb is the main traditional Easter meal as the early Christians adopted this custom from the ancient Jews who sacrificed lambs for their Passover celebrations.
From Sunday lunchtime until Tuesday night, in village squares and churchyards, games and traditional Cypriot music is the order of the day. Everyone - Cypriot and foreigners - is welcomed and usually greeted with an enthusiastic, Christos Anesti (Christ is Risen!) or Kopiaste (Welcome!) Or Chronia Polla (may you have many years!)