People in South Cyprus enjoy a fair number of public holidays (known as ‘bank holidays’ in the UK). Many of them are Christian festivals, since 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 is closed 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 – or 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)
Easter in Cyprus does not always fall on the same date as the Western (Protestant) Easter; they’re calculated according to different methods and only coincide about once every four years. Western Easter is celebrated in the Protestant churches in Cyprus, but not recognised by the majority of people. 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 is an important day on the Christian calendar, with church services and vigils, and a slow march through the towns bearing flower-laden coffins in the evening, but for most people it’s also a regular working day.
Christmas Eve is generally a working day in Cyprus, with shops open until at least lunch-time. During December, supermarkets and some other shops open on Sundays as well as during the week. If Christmas happens to fall on a Monday, Christmas Eve is treated as an ordinary day. However most shops – including supermarkets – close on Boxing Day as well as Christmas Day, and some are also closed on December 27th.
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
Pentecost (which used to be called Whitsun in the UK) is known as Kataklysmos in Cyprus, and combines the celebration of Pentecost with the story of the Flood in which Noah’s Ark floated. A fair is held at the sea-fronts of various cities, with music, dancing and fireworks on the day after, which is another public holiday. The fair usually stays open for the whole week after Pentecost.
Green Monday, the first day of Lent, is a general public holiday where the schools are closed. Families go out for picnics or barbecues, but the only ‘meat’ allowed is octopus, which is not officially counted 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.
Epiphany falls at the end of the school Christmas break. Since Jesus’ baptism is celebrated, there is a ceremony at the beach where a cross is thrown into the sea, and young men dive for it. The one who finds it is supposed to have good luck during the year.
Ascension Day and Assumption Day are recognised in the Greek Orthodox Church, but 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, 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)
These are marked generally by parades in the streets, 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, and many families will pass around a special cake.
If these secular holidays fall on a weekday, they’re generally treated as public holidays with schools, shops and businesses closing (although many supermarkets open for at least some of the time). However if they fall on a Sunday, there is no extra day given in lieu, other than for New Year’s Day.