Cypriot Christmas customs

Cypriot Christmas customs

For the elderly to remember and the youngest to learn

The holidays are approaching and the customs of Cyprus are many as well as the traditions that nowadays are revived mainly in the villages of the island.

One of the most important elements of the holidays is the Christmas tree and in general the festive decoration of the house. The kourabiedes and melomakarona certainly have their place of honor, as well as the cross buns, buns in the shape of the cross. Tradition says that every housewife should make something to make the house smell like Christmas.

In general, the period of Christmas and New Year is particularly rich in customs and traditions related to bread. In Paphos, the "gennopoulles or gennopites, the vasilopoulles or vasilopites", and the buns with various shapes and names, all wrapped in sesame seeds - that's why they are called sesamotas. These various types of festive breads have as a basic element that they bear the sign of the cross, in various sizes and forms, while in several cases they are also decorated with motifs from nature and the daily life of people.
In Cyprus, together with the "gennopittes", housewives used the same dough to make the big pie for the New Year. This pie was known in the villages as vasilopita, "Vassilis" or "Santa Claus" and in some villages of Paphos "vasilopulla". The pie always included the coin, which would reveal the lucky person of the year. In most villages, they used to make a little man out of dough, an effigy of Saint Basil, which they placed on top of or next to the pie. Usually, the "vasilouthkia" were given to children on the first day of the year. Today's king pie is directly connected to the Saint whom the Orthodox Church honors on the first day of the year: the ascetic Saint Basil, bishop of Caesarea. The distribution of the pie is done for the good of the year and the good luck of the house.

On the eve, the turkey stuffing is prepared. The day after the Christmas Divine Liturgy, in a family atmosphere, everyone around the table enjoys the hot trachana or egg-lemon soup with chicken. And by noon the pork and lamb spit will be ready, along with many other traditional foods.
In almost all the villages of Cyprus, every householder slaughtered the domestic pig which was well fed with ground barley mixed with whey (left over from cheese making), fruit, crunchy acorns if there were any in the area, potato skins and scraps , that is, the rest of the family meal. Slaughtering the pig is a custom that goes back to ancient times and the sacred ceremonies of our ancient ancestors. In modern Greek tradition, the slaughter of the pig symbolizes the purification of the house and the family from evil. The whole animal was used to the maximum, nothing was thrown away. The head was used to make gelatin, and the meat was used to make pastes, sausages, lounzes and hams. The fat, where it was thick, was cut off, salted, sprinkled with herbs or spices and made pickled. With pork lard they cooked many simple and humble everyday foods and made them tastier. Like the pilaf - purguri that the harvesters ate in the summer, which was cooked with lard and considered a delicious dish. Or they still made the tsiridis, which were small pieces of fat roasted, kind of like the popcorn of the time. This domestic pig together with Lambri's lamb, or the poultry of the yard, if there were any, was all the meat of the year.

On the eve of the Epiphany, housewives make "Xerotian" sausages and loukoumades. According to the custom, they throw the "xerotians" on the roof of the house to drive away the goblins, the spirits that come around at night to steal, shouting "tichin tichin sausage massai black sleeve eat jiai breathe". Sausages - smoked, stuffed with fresh minced pork or veal (pasturmas), spicy with the addition of spices and aromatics such as pepper, coriander, fennel seeds, thin or plump, juicy or dry - are undoubtedly the star delicacy of the holiday Twelve days. During the day of Epiphany, the custom of "poultry" is preserved. The children ask their own money to wish them well, saying "Good morning and lights and chicken first". On Epiphany Day, the Great Sanctification is held and then the waters are sanctified by throwing the Holy Cross into the sea or rivers and lakes. Many young people dive into the cold waters to find the Cross and receive a special blessing.