Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Shrove Tuesday in Cyprus

Easter is a confusing season in Cyprus. Most years, there are two Easters here. This is because while the Western Protestant Church uses the Gregorian calendar, the Eastern Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar. If you want to know what that means in terms of Easter dates, here's a page to calculate Easter dates which can tell you all you ever wanted to know, and a great deal more, about why Easter appears to be on a random Sunday - or two Sundays - each year.

This year, the Protestant/Western Easter falls very early, on March 23rd. That means that Lent - the forty days prior to Palm Sunday, which is the week before Easter - begins tomorrow. Thus today is Shrove Tuesday, when traditionally people used up their eggs and sugar and so on, prior to fasting - or at least cutting out several foods - during Lent. In the Western world, some people try to give up one thing during Lent, but few people fast. However the tradition of cooking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday remains in the UK... and even more strongly with Brits abroad.

I had actually forgotten that today was 'pancake day' until I arrived at the Mother and Toddler group where I help in the kitchen, and discovered the leader with a large bowl of pancake mixture, and three frying pans, preparing to make pancakes for all the children and mothers. And helpers. Very nice they were, too!

Because I didn't want the family to miss out, I made some mixture myself this afternoon. So this evening we had some traditional pancakes for our dessert, with lemon juice and sugar. And, in my case, also some Greek yogurt, since this is Cyprus. Or, in Richard and Tim's cases, one of their pancakes was with chocolate sauce...

The Greek Orthodox Easter, which is a major public holiday in Cyprus, falls five weeks later than the Western Easter. That's the furthest apart that they ever get. So when we celebrate Easter, they will be just a couple of weeks into Lent. When we first moved here, fasting (or, at least, cutting out meat) was a big thing to Cypriots. In ten years, it seems to have decreased, although people still don't barbecue outside during Lent.

Moreover, they don't have the equivalent of Shrove Tuesday. They count the days differently, and start their Lent with 'Green Monday' which is another public holiday. People clean their houses then go on picnics. The weekend before Green Monday is carnival weekend, when the children dress up and have balloons, and there are concerts on the sea front.

It's all a big mixture of sacred and secular. I quite like celebrating Easter twice. In the Protestant Churches, we don't ignore the Orthodox Easter, as so many of those visiting have Orthodox relatives.

But I do wonder whether the shops will manage to get any Easter eggs before March 23rd...

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