Christmas on Cyprus"Christouyenna" is celebrated in much the same way as in other western countries, within the country and the Greek Orthodox Church. The Greek Orthodox church is central to many Christmas celebrations in Cyprus and Greece, with church services held throughout the Christmas and New Year period. Christmas is a very special time for Greek Orthodox Christians, but it is not the greatest celebration for the church - Easter in Cyprus and Greece is the most important Greek holiday. Christmas trees are decorated in homes and colourful lights strung outside on balconies and in gardens. Towns and villages are lit up with Christmas lights and displays. Boats are also decorated - not just those in the harbours, but small boats placed in town squares and in gardens - in honour of St Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors in Greece.
The Twelve Days of Christmas " Kalanda" The 12 days of Christmas run from Christmas Day to January 6th, Epiphany. There are a number of special traditional Greek Christmas and New Year customs. Christmas Day is celebrated on the 25th December, while Santa Claus or "Agios Vassilis" (St. Basil) as he is known in Cyprus / Greece, visits Greek children on New Year's Eve rather than Christmas Eve. Christmas Carol's, known as the 'Kalanda' are sung by children on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and the the Eve of Epiphany. Christmas biscuits, cookies and sweet breads can be found on every table in Cyprus / Greece at Christmas - home baked kourabiedes (melt-in-the-mouth shortbread smothered in icing sugar), Melomakarona (honey, cinamom and nut buscuits and christospomo (which translates as Christ's Bread, a traditional sweet Christmas bread).
New Year VASILOPITA
The Ritual A vasilopita (greek: βασιλόπιτα) is a type of cake associated with the festival of New Year. It brings good luck. On New Year's Day families cut the Vasilopita to bless the house and bring good luck for the New Year. This is usually done at the midnight of New Year's Eve. A coin is hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking. At midnight the sign of the cross is etched with a knife across the cake. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time, by order of age from eldest to youngest. Slices are also cut for various symbolical people or groups, depending on local and family tradition. They may include the Lord, St. Basil and other saints, the poor, the household, or the Kallikantzaroi. In older times, the coin often was a valuable one, such as a gold sovereign. Nowadays there is often a prearranged gift, money, or otherwise, to be given to the coin recipient. Many private or public institutions, such as societies, clubs, workplaces, companies, etc, cut their vasilopita at a convenient time between New Year's Day and the beginning of the Great Lent, in celebrations that range from impromptu potluck gatherings to formal receptions or balls. Saint Basil's Feast Day is observed on January 1, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season known as the Vasilopita Observance. The Origin The tradition of Vasilopita is associated with a legend of Saint Basil. According to the legend St. Basil called on the citizens of Caesarea to raise a ransom payment to stop the siege of the city. Each member of the city gave whatever they had in gold and jewellery. When the ransom was raised, the enemy was so embarrassed by the act of collective giving that he called off the siege without collecting payment. St. Basil was then tasked with returning the unpaid ransom, but had no way to know which items belonged to which family. So he baked all of the jewellery into loaves of bread and distributed the loaves to the city, and by a miracle each citizen received their exact share, as the legend goes.