Carnival in Cyprus: the Rio of the Mediterranean?
In bidding farewell to meat and other foods deemed rich and indulgent in anticipation of Lent, the sleepy, Mediterranean island of Cyprus becomes alive: a place of customs long revered, home to its very own carnival extraordinaire.
As traditions of historical and religious import collide with a modern verve for all things celebratory that is hard to quell, Cyprus undergoes an explosion of colours, music, and dancing that truly makes for a unique event on its yearly timeline.
Whilst the days preceding Lent are traditionally reserved for self-reflection in anticipation of the impending period of repentance and asceticism, the almost two-week period of ‘apokries’ in Cyprus feels, rather, as though a fresh bud is driving itself through the ground, forcing itself into the light of spring.
Literally meaning, ‘farewell to meat’, the springtime of the Fast, the apokries, actually commences with tsiknopempti –or ‘meat-scented Thursday’ –during which families congregate the island over to avail of meat, most typically the traditional Cypriot staple, souvla: rosemary encrusted lamb tenderly slow-cooked over sizzling charcoal.
A joyous time eagerly anticipated by both young and old alike, tsiknopempti ushers in carnival’s preparatory period, culminating with the grand parade on Sunday, the eve of Lent.
The preparatory week (also known as ‘tyrini’ –‘cheese week’ –due to people’s abstinence from meat, gorging, rather, on cheese) is spent in good spirits and revelry, as masks are meticulously made and costumes carefully created.
And so, the day of the carnival arrives, and people flood the streets engendering a river of colour. Floats –typically satirical in nature –commence their journey with either King or Queen Carnival on board, as onlookers jubilantly dance to music joyously emanating from the parade.
Though an institution celebrated throughout Cyprus, carnival comes most bountifully to bloom in Limassol (a mere 20 minutes from Columbia Beach Resort, and Columbia Beach Hotel), which, in recent years, has succeeded in carving a distinguished name for itself in Europe.
In contrast to the ostentatious occasion famously held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Cyprus’ carnival in Limassol is praised for its friendly atmosphere in which all are welcome to join in. A natural evolution is the influx of tourists around this time of year, eager to enjoy a carnival experience in safe yet exotic surroundings.
As the music subsides, and people –having passed the night merrily away in communal celebration –depart for their homes in the early hours of Monday morning, the sun prepares to rise on the first day of Lent…Have you ever visited Cyprus during carnival, or is it a long unfulfilled item on your holiday check-list? Share your thoughts with us on facebook!