Christmas is a major time of festivities in Cyprus, and the season is marked with two public holidays – on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
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This holiday celebration is a full mix of culture, religious beliefs, and superstitions. There are many contrasts in Cyprus during the Christmas season, and it is easy to say that this holiday season is not celebrated like this anywhere else in the world.
Traditionally, Christmas Eve in Cyprus begins with parades and processions through town, and Christmas carollers singing door-to-door. What is most impressive is that these carols are not your typical modern carols, but songs from the Byzantine period. These beautiful melodies have been handed down for generations and sung each year on this night.
Christmas Day is celebrated as a family gathering. Santa Claus does not exist in Cyprus, and there are few presents exchanged this day. Most families start the day by attending church and then spend the afternoon and evening feasting with their family and friends.
Celebrations continue through until 6 January which marks the date for orthodox Christmas or the Feast of the Epiphany for non-Orthodox Christians. During these celebrations there are two very special events on 1 and 5 January.
Each 1 January marks not only the New Year; it is also the Feast of St. Basil. St. Basil is the patron saint of Cyprus and is the “bringer of gifts.” Much like Santa Claus, presents are brought on New Year’s Eve night and everyone exchanges gifts on New Year’s morning.
On 5 January, a very traditional event takes place. A golden cross is thrown into the sea. Young men then swim out and try to find the cross. The person who finds the cross and returns it to the priest is said to have good fortune for the next year. This tradition takes place in both Cyprus and Greece each year.