New Year’s Eve is one of the most important holidays celebrated across the world. Everyone gets busy shopping for gifts, decorating their homes and christmas trees and expecting some kind of miracle. But if you have grown tired of celebrating New Year’s Eve in your country and want a taste of new traditions, then Cyprus is the place for you.
This isn’t only an opportunity to have a great vacation, but also a chance to experience the special atmosphere that surrounds this holiday in Cyprus. Warm weather, costume parades, unique New Year traditions and delicious food — these are just some of the things that will surely make your holidays in Cyprus exotic and memorable.
Winter in Cyprus
If you are not used to sunshine this time of the year, then Cyprus has a nice surprise in store for you. Just imagine spending this holiday in the comfort of mediterranean sunshine, instead of braving the cold wrapped in heavy winter coats.
You might not be able to go swimming at this time of year, but you probably won’t even need to, since there is so much else to do. Unlike northern Europe Cyprus gets very little snow and mostly in the mountains. Temperatures average around 15°C during the day and drop to about 9°C in the evening, making it the perfect weather for walking and hiking.
Sometimes it gets quite windy, especially at the beach, so keep that in mind when you are packing your suitcase and don’t forget a windbreaker and a sweater.
The weather is quite pleasant at the beginning of winter. Temperatures average around 20°C during the day and drop to about 7-10°C at night. It tends to be sunny and the skies are usually clear. The sea is peaceful and quite beautiful, albeit somewhat colder than in the summertime (15 °C). If you are not a fan of cold water, then grab a blanket and read a book or go for a walk. Sometimes December brings stormy weather with showers and even hail, so bring an umbrella, just in case.
This month can be full of surprises. Daytime temperatures fluctuate around 14°C and drop to about 8°C at night. Some days are sunny and somewhat windy. But generally speaking, this month is considered to be the coldest and rainiest for Cyprus. But if you are looking for snow, then this is the perfect time to head to the Troodos Mountains, where you are sure to find piles of it.
February brings the scent of spring and warmth in Cyprus. Temperatures begin to rise and range between 16-18°C. Nature awakens and you can start seeing early flowering plants scattered across mountain slopes and the smell of jasmine and lemon trees begins to permeate the air. Even though it’s still winter, tourists can enjoy a unique opportunity of seeing almond trees flower, which is a truly mesmerizing sight.
Pretty quickly Cyprus becomes so green that it resembles the Shire — a region inhabited by hobbits in “The Lord of the Rings”. Water temperature starts to gradually creep up reaching an average of 17°C. At the same time the ski season is still underway.
Cypriot holiday traditions
New Year and Christmas holiday traditions in Cyprus are rooted in paegan beliefs, Hellenistic culture and Christianity.
Holiday staples include:
- Handmade tablecloths that are usually passed on from generation to generation and taken out during the holiday season.
- Olive branches used to decorate the home. They are a symbol of peace and trust.
- Pomegranates are not only delicious, but also symbolize prosperity, happiness and fertility in Cyprus.
On Christmas Eve people bring pomegranates to church to have them sanctified. After returning home and entering the house with the right foot first, Cypriots break the pomegranate to see if it makes a loud noise. If it does, it is believed that the following year will bring happiness and peace.
Christmas is a more important holiday in Cyprus than New Year’s Eve. Street markets kick off the holiday season in early December. If you want to learn more about them, please read our review of the best ones.
In addition to Christmas trees, Cypriots decorate their homes with fairy lights, olive branches and garlands featuring berries, nuts and pomegranates. Christmas markets offer an array of attractions for adults and children and sell delicious street food such as roasted chestnuts, gluhwein, caramelized apples and melomacarona — honey-dipped cookies baked during the holiday season. Nothing will put you into a festive mood faster than strolling through a Christmas market, while sipping on a cup of hot chocolate and shopping for holiday gifts.
The official holiday season begins on December 23rd and lasts through January 6th. So if you want to spend this time of the year in Cyprus, better head there ahead of Christmas Eve. Don’t forget to purchase your tickets way in advance. Cyprus is simply magical at this time of the year with holiday worship services taking place at all of the churches on the island. Attending these services is usually an essential part of Christmas celebration for Cypriots. If you too want to partake in this experience, then I suggest you head to one of the old Byzantine cathedrals on the island, where the holiday worship service is bound to be even more memorable.
Some of the villages in the mountains have a tradition of keeping their doors unlocked on Christmas Eve. This practice goes back to an old belief that the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ might enter their home to check that the table is set and everything is ready for the celebration.
Some of the essential items present on the holiday table include:
- a lit candle;
- Poinsettia — also known as the Christmas star — is a flower that blooms at the end of December;
- a decorated wine gourd.
Another popular Christmas tradition is making Gennopitta (also known as Christbread) — sweet bread made with yeast and decorated with a cross. You are also likely to see another holiday cake made with lots of nuts and berries and glazed with icing to symbolize the snow.
January 1st is New Year’s Day in Cyprus and this is the day when children receive gifts from Agios Vasilis — the local equivalent of Santa Claus. This day is usually spent at home with the family.
The holiday menu usually includes an abundance of hearty dishes. Vasilopita is a traditional bread baked for New Year’s Day and decorated with figures of animals and plants. A coin is hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking. It is considered to bring good luck to whoever receives a slice of bread containing it. One slice of vasilopita is usually brought to church and left to the poor.
Cypriots prefer homemade alcoholic beverages and you are unlikely to see a bottle of champagne at the dinner table.
What is special about celebrating Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Cyprus?
Cyprus is a very hospitable country. Cypriots are great hosts and will eagerly talk to you about Cypriot holiday traditions.
Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the carnival by staying at one of the many local hotels offering its guests a sparkling program of entertainment or dine at one of the restaurants serving delicious holiday food.
If you like clubbing and nightlife, then there is an array of places with a rich holiday program. And for those who prefer a more relaxing atmosphere, I recommend a live music concert at one of the local pubs.
Larnaca is known for its Christmas costume parades, where participants dress in costumes and wear masks. Streets are crowded with people singing, dancing and lighting fireworks.
You can also head to Limassol and visit a winery. You can go on a tour of the vineyards or attend a wine tasting. Don’t forget to purchase a bottle of wine either for yourself or as a gift for someone.
Other cities in Cyprus are just as fascinating. So, for example, you can visit Paphos where the Baths of Aphrodite are believed to grant eternal beauty and youth. This legend is not only popular among tourists, but is also taken seriously by Cypriots themselves. The largest zoo in Cyprus is located just outside of Paphos. You can both look at and feed exotic animals there.
Winter outdoor activities
Those who can’t imagine a winter vacation without outdoor activities should head to Mount Olympos. It is the highest point in Cyprus measuring 1952 meters high. The area gets the most snow in the winter. It is home to the only ski resort on the island and is therefore the main destination for winter sports fans.
Daytime mountain temperatures usually range between 5-10°C and drop below zero at night. Sometimes temperatures drop below zero even during the day — a perfect occasion for making a snowman with your kids. Before going up to the mountains make sure to check the weather forecast for sleet, thunderstorms or even rain — all of which are a common occurrence in the winter.
Permanent snow cover usually arrives between December and January and persists until the end of February. This is the period when the ski season kicks open and the mountain resort opens its doors to visitors. There are four chairlifts at the resort. All of the slopes with ski trails bear the names of ancient gods. So, for example, there are slopes on Mount Olympus named after Zeus and Hera, while Sun Valley has Aphrodite and Hermes slopes. If this is your first time skiing, then I would recommend either the Hera or the Aphrodite slopes, which measure 350 and 150 meters long, respectively. More seasoned skiers and snowboarders can usually be found on the Zeus slope, which measures 500 meters long.
The resort is fully equipped with everything you need to enjoy winter sports. Skiing and snowboarding equipment comes at affordable prices. If you want to make sure that there is enough snow covering the slopes, keep an eye on the Troodos webcam for the current snow conditions. The chairlifts operate until dusk, which usually falls between 18:00-18:30.
But if you are not too big on skiing or snowboarding, then simply go on a walk through the Troodos mountains. Enjoy the scenery with its rare fauna and be sure to visit the Caledonia waterfall, which is easy to reach if you start out your hike from Platres village and take the trail that runs along the creek. It takes about half an hour to get to Caledonia from there. The trail runs uphill, so the walk is a bit of a workout, but the views that await you near the waterfall are worth it.
One last place I would recommend visiting is the indoor ice rink in Limassol. It is the only ice rink in Cyprus and it is open daily from 11 until 23. You can rent a pair of ice skates if you didn’t bring your own. You can also stay for a professional ice-skating show.
Christmas and New Year’s in Cyprus may be different from what you are used to, but it will still be a great and memorable experience. Pleasant weather, snowy slopes, wild nature, Christmas markets, scrumptious food — all of this makes Cyprus a great, albeit somewhat unusual, destination for winter holidays.