April 20, 2017

Old Cypriot Easter Customs

Cypriot tradition says that on Pascha (Easter) people must wear new shoes and clothes. In the olden days, even the masters offered their apprentices either new garments or shoes on Pascha.

It was also customary for the wood used in the great fire, which was lit outside the church to burn an effigy of Judas, to be stolen. It was the young people who usually undertook the theft, and they would then gather in the courtyard of the church.

It is still believed in Cyprus that if someone is sleeping during the Good Word (Καλού Λόγο), which takes place at midnight of Pascha Sunday between "Come receive the light" and the singing of the first "Christ is risen," will have a problem with rabbits because they will eat their crops and vines. This also applied to those who slept during the Resurrection Divine Liturgy that followed, and usually lasts till about 3:00AM. This encouraged people to stay awake during this celebratory time, and some even said it applied to those who slept in on Sunday mornings and didn't attend the Divine Liturgy. They say those who sleep during the time of the Divine Liturgy, especially that of Pascha, are as if sleeping in fire.

The Paschal Candle lit during the Resurrection Service is not tossed away by the Cypriots. They keep it lit through the service and protect the flame until they arrive in their homes. When they arrive at their home they transfer the flame to their oil lamp. Every Orthodox Christian home kept this flame lit continuously for the entire forty days of Pascha. Many still burn a carbon-black cross with this flame on their window trim or door trim to protect their homes from natural (or supernatural) disasters. Though the flame from the Paschal Candle was transferred to the oil lamp, the family still kept the candle and would light it during big hailstorms, believing that this had the power to stop the storm. Farmers would light this candle and shine its light on fruitless tress to get them to bear fruit. They would approach the tree with the lit candle, and circle the trunk of the tree three times singing "Christ is risen." This was done in order to "resurrect" the tree from the dead and allow it to bear fruit.

The Paschal festivities began right after the Resurrection Divine Liturgy in the olden days, at 3:00AM. The fast was broken with red eggs and flaouna (a Cypriot cheese-filled pastry). On Pascha Sunday afternoon there was a festive parade, then a big festive lunch that lasted till late in the evening.

It was believed that anyone who ate a red egg without sharing one with someone would grow eagle feathers from their body. Simple folk also believed the red color of the egg came from the blood Christ shed when a crown of thorns was placed on his forehead.

In the evening the villagers would gather in the courtyard of the church, and there they participated in various sports, such as lifting heavy stones, tug of war, horse races and other games. Young men and women also took the opportunity to meet and speak to each other, which it was hoped would lead to marriage. These games would usually last through Bright Monday and even sometimes through Bright Tuesday. Whenever someone met someone else for the first time, they would embrace and say "Christ is Risen!", while the other responded with "Truly He is Risen!"

Riding on swings was an important Paschal tradition in Cyprus. These would be attached to arches or roofs or trees. Only girls sat on the swings. The wooden board of the swing was about five feet long, allowing for two or three girls to sit on it at a time, while two could stand on it (boys were only allowed to stand on it). During this time they would sing songs like:

θεέ μου νά ρταν οι Λαμπρές
να κρεμμαστούς οι σούσες,
τζιαί να γεμώσουν τα στενά
ούλλον μαυρομματούσες.