There’s no avoiding it; winter is here. Whether you’re tightly wrapped in your heavy winter coat or huddled under blankets on your sofa, many people yearn to be bathed in sunshine, gently bronzing our skin on a secluded beach. Now just because it’s winter it does not mean we have to settle for it. Mercifully, there is still a plethora of European destinations unscathed by dreary unforgiving winter weather, instead they are basking in balmy temperatures and invigorating sunshine. It’s hard to believe but it’s true, and one such place is Cyprus.
Year in and year out Cyprus has been the choice destination for the British looking to escape the winter weather, with an estimated 136,000 of us jetting off to the island last winter. It is not difficult to see why, with daily temperatures averaging around 20 degrees, mild seas and an unparalleled number of Blue Flag beaches – all at the reach of a short-haul air flight. However, not only is the weather very agreeable at this time of year, but so are the prices! Stays during the winter season are at their most amiable with fantastic deals to be had at this time of year.
Should you wish to ditch the unrelenting rain and bitter cold of the winter then here is a handy cultural guide to the top festive highlights Cyprus has to offer over the winter holidays.
Importantly, just because you have decided to leave the winter weather behind you back at home it does not mean you have to leave behind your festive spirit too, oh no. We Brits can be sticklers for tradition, especially when it comes to Christmas and New Year’s, yet you will be pleasantly surprised how festive the Cypriot seasonal celebrations can be.
Christmas, or “Christouyenna” as the locals know it, is marked by the baking and cooking of classic Cypriot delicacies and by the honouring of age-old yuletide traditions. One particularly curious yet peculiar tradition is the hanging of crucifixes wrapped in basil, sprinkled with holy water outside of the house. The supposed purpose of this tradition is to ward away Goblin-like spirits known as “killikantzari”, which local folklore tells us, come out of their subterranean homes to make mischief during the twelve days of Christmas.
I think we would be in agreement that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the food and the case is the same in Cyprus. At the heart of any Cypriot household is the kitchen and every winter, without fail, it springs to life in a melee of activity as loaves of “christoposomo” (Christ bread) and traditional deserts such as an almond infused cakes known as “kourabiedes” are freshly baked. Familiar dishes such as stuffed turkey, roast chicken and lamb with all the trimmings, followed by the customary after dinner nibbles of figs and nuts are typically served. As is usually the case at Christmas, such hearty food is best washed down with liberal amounts of alcohol, and what better drink to do it with than Cypriot wine. Wine and especially wine making is in the blood of Cypriots and has been for a monumental 5,000 years. However, in more recent times wine making has witnessed a revival with around 40 boutique wineries opening their doors, many of which you are welcome to visit!
Seasonal yuletide traditions are not just observed in the homes, restaurants and bars across the island but as well celebrations and frivolities pour onto the streets. Christmas is heralded in the streets by magical processions, accompanied by the singing of ancient carols or “kalandas” passed down through the generations since Byzantine times. During this time the streets themselves are transformed, becoming makeshift venues and stages for a whole manner of concerts, choirs, orchestras, operas and bands to perform live. But no place does it better in Cyprus than Limassol as for the past 3 years they have hosted the Winter Mystery Christmas Market. The popular market runs for 42 days and boasts a full calendar of events which commence from early December boasting an ice skating rink, Ferris wheels, luna park and Christmas stalls.
New Year is always a cause for celebration but this occasion is of special significance to Cypriots, as January 1st marks the feast day of their beloved saint, Saint Basil. Saint Basil serves as the island’s equivalent to our jolly old Saint Nick and it is on his feast day that gifts and presents are exchanged. The similarities do not end there and in fact there is a remarkably familiar tradition in Cyprus of leaving out food (and even a place at your dining table) for Saint Basil, should he wish to descend to earth and join the celebrations of his own feast day. A feat which the people of Cyprus try and propagate by partaking in an age-old tradition of forming a procession in the street and bellowing a chosen sentence that should help achieve his resurrection, the proclamation being “Saint Basil is coming! Saint Basil is coming from Caesarea!”
Should you wish to witness this bizarre custom and indeed any of the other weird and wonderful yuletide traditions, or to just simply defy winter in search of unseasonal warmth and sunshine then Cyprus is the destination for you. But more specifically indulge yourself in the tranquil oasis that is Columbia Beach Resort. The hotel is idyllically located in the picturesque Pissouri bay whilst being conveniently located to both Limassol and Paphos – two places not just renowned for their fine beaches, but for their enthusiastic Christmas and New Year celebrations.
So don’t stay in the cold and rain of home this Christmas and instead raise a glass and say Merry ‘Christouyenna’ and a Happy ‘Chronia Bolla!’ at the Columbia Beach Resort!
Cyprus is a great destination all year round, visit our post reasons why Cyprus is a fantastic holiday destination to find out more.