People in the Republic of Cyprus enjoy a fair number of public holidays (known as ‘bank holidays’ in the UK). Many of them are Christian festivals. This is because the dominant religion of Cyprus is Greek Orthodox. (See the page on religion in Cyprus).
Religious holidays in Cyprus
The two most important dates are:
- Eastern Easter Sunday (variable)
- Christmas Day (25th December)
Almost everywhere closes down on these days, other than hotels and some restaurants. Even some bakeries, which are normally open 24 hours a day ,close for Christmas and Easter. Others are open only for people who have booked to have turkeys roasted in the ovens.
Closely related dates to Easter and Christmas are:
- Good Friday (two days before Easter
- Easter Monday (the day after Easter)
- Christmas Eve (24th December)
- Boxing Day (26th December)
Cyprus public holidays related to Easter
Easter in Cyprus does not always fall on the same date as the Western (Protestant) Easter. They are calculated according to different methods and only coincide about once every four years. Some of the Protestant churches in Cyprus celebrate Western Easter. However the majority of people on the island do not recognise it. It has no public holidays associated with it, unless it happens to fall on the same date as Eastern Easter. The following paragraphs refer to Eastern Easter.
Since Easter is a Sunday, and most shops and businesses are closed on Sundays anyway, Easter Monday is the main public holiday. Good Friday (two days before Easter Sunday) is also an important day on the Christian calendar. There are church services and vigils, with many participants. In the evening there is a slow march through the towns bearing flower-laden coffins. However, for many people Good Friday is also a regular working day.
Cyprus public holidays over Christmas
Christmas Day is always a public holiday. Some restaurants are open for pre-booked meals, and hotels usually have parties. But all businesses close for at least the 25th December. Christmas Eve is generally a partial holiday in Cyprus, too, although most shops stay open until at least lunch-time. Government offices such as the Post Office close on Christmas Eve, which is a bit annoying if you are expecting parcels or cards from abroad.
Earlier in December, supermarkets and some other shops open on Sundays as well as during the week. Most shops – including supermarkets – close on Boxing Day (December 26th) as well as Christmas Day. Some remain closed on December 27th too.
Other important religious Cyprus public holidays
Other important religious days which are also generally treated as public holidays are:
- Epiphany (6th January) which marks the arrival of the Kings to visit Jesus, and also Jesus’ baptism
- Green Monday (Six weeks before Easter) which is the first day of Lent
- Ascension Day (40 days after Easter) which marks Jesus’ ascension into heaven
- Pentecost (seven weeks after Easter), marking the birth of the church
- Assumption Day (15th August) which remembers the death of Mary, mother of Jesus
Epiphany falls at the end of the school Christmas break. Since Epiphany celebrates Jesus’ baptism, there is a ceremony at the beach where a priest throws a cross into the sea. Hardy young men then dive for it. The one who finds it is supposed to have good luck during the year.
Green Monday, the first day of Lent, is a general public holiday where the schools close. Families go out for picnics or barbecues, but the only ‘meat’ is octopus, which does not officially count as meat. Traditionally the Greek Orthodox do not eat any meat during Lent.
Immediately before Green Monday is Carnival weekend, celebrating for the last time before the 40-day fast period of Lent. Children dress up in costumes and there is usually a festival of music and dancing along the sea front areas of many cities.
Pentecost (which used to be called Whitsun in the UK) is known as Kataklysmos in Cyprus. It combines the celebration of Pentecost with the story of the Flood in which Noah’s Ark floated. Some coastal towns and cities hold fairs along the sea-fronts. There is music, dancing and fireworks on Kataklysmos Monday, which is another public holiday. The fair usually stays open for the whole week after Pentecost.
The Greek Orthodox Church recognises Ascension Day and Assumption Day, but they make little difference to daily life. Schools close on Ascension Day, but most shops and some businesses remain open. Assumption Day falls in the middle of the lengthy Summer break from schools. It’s a time when many businesses are closed anyway.
Secular Cyprus public holidays
As well as the religious holidays, there are several secular holidays:
- New Year’s Day (1st January)
- Greek Independence Day (25th March)
- Greek Cypriot National Day (1st April)
- Labour Day (1st May)
- Cyprus Independence Day (1st October)
- Greek National Day, (Ochi Day) (28th October)
The locals often mark these by parades in the streets. These are sometimes accompanied by music and dancing, and flag-waving. On New Year’s Day there are usually fireworks at midnight after parties on New Year’s Eve. January 1st is also St Basil’s Day – remembering an important saint in the Greek Orthodox Church. Many families will pass around a special cake, and some exchange gifts.
If these secular holidays fall on a weekday, they’re generally considered public holidays. Schools, some shops and businesses close (although many supermarkets stay open). However if they fall on a Sunday, there is no extra day given in lieu, other than for New Year’s Day.