Traditional Easter Festival

Traditional Easter Festival

The "Easter Kalifes" are, according to witnesses, the oldest custom of Deryneia having been maintained until today.

According to information gathered, the Easter games were organised for the first time approximately 100 years ago, presumably before 1900 and the programme included horse races, street games, competitions and of course musical entertainment, traditional Cyprus song competitions, dances and so on.

Initially the events took place in the chapel of St Constantine, on May 21, the day that honours the memory of the Saints Constantine and Helen.

The organizers put up provisional huts covered with reed in the courtyard of the chapel beneath which the musicians used to sit. The custom acquired its name from these makeshift reed covered huts in the first place.

Gradually the events were relocated to the centre of Deryneia, first to the coffee house Violaris located on Pan. Paschalis Street and later to St Modestou Square. Initially the huts stood on the north side of the church of St Modestou but were then moved to the area in front of the shop (Tsangaradiko) of Mastre Giorkas, where they eventually found their established location. The name of Mastre Giorkas, who was a typical man of the local crowd, who took part in the organization and maintenance of the custom, is therefore directly linked to the custom. The events used to take place on Sunday, Easter Monday and on the Sunday of Thomas.

According to the information that could be compiled, since there unfortunately does not exist any written proof, the organizers have always been people with love for tradition and entertainment. In the 1930 the organizers were Kyriakos Ttampas, Panagiotis Kourtas, Zakos, Tsimpouris, Yannis Shapanis, Nicholas Kouzas, Christodoulos Karonias and others. 

Later Yannis Anamisi (Araouzos), Andreas Xatzikoumis Nicolis and Lucas Kolokoudias, Yiannis Giannitsaros, Mastre Giorkis, Georgios Pantelis Virtis, Andreas Katastrophas and others, took part in the organization.

The basic prerequisite for the organization of the event was the setting up of "Kalifes" (marquees) with reed and the organizers were furthermore responsible for finding the musicians (violin and lute).

Participating instrumentalists were George Violaris, Yiannis Roussos (violin), Lefteris Telis (lute), Petros Assias (lute), Prokopis Laoutaris from Frenaros, Yannis Laoutaris from Avgorou, Kiles (lute) from Frenaros, Mimis (lute ) from Avgorou, Pieris Pierettis (violin) from Frenaros, Kyriakos Kagias (lute) and others.

A typical local custom is the performing of Tsiattista, a typical form of musical citing of local folk poetry. Tsiattista performers taking part in the events were Antonis Adamou Katsantonis, Hadjistillis, Chambis Kolokasis (Straochampis), who was blind and played the violin, Minas of Sheftalia and Prinkopoulos from Avgorou, Kouvaros of Liopetri, Petros Kantziaras and Pieris Pierettis from Frenaros, Tsiissos, Pittatziis, Xenis Patsalos and Loizos Tsiolakkis from Paralimni and of course the Deryneian Folk Poets and Tsiattistaes Christodoulos Karonias, Elias Chatziiliasis, Anastasis Giorkallos, Lefteris Telis, Yannis Giannitsaros, Demetris Hadjigeorgiou, Mastre Giorkas, Giorgos and Costas Katsantonis, Giorgos Karagiorkis, Markos Yiasoumi, Kyriakos Paflaras and Anthonis Katsantonis.

Over time the events took community-wide character and started to be attended by folks from Famagusta and the surrounding villages.

In the beginning the men used to enjoy themselves, taking with them drinks and a variety of traditional foods (Mezedes) that they had prepared for themselves, while the women used to gather in a different spot watching.

Later the organizers prepared and sold food and drinks and this way covered the costs of the event. The popular drinks at the time were wine from the barrel, brandy, lemonade, sparkled drinks, rose water drinks and others. Later on the crowd was supplied with drinks and cafes from the coffee houses (Kafeneion) of Petris Skirtou, Georgiou Siogka and Paschalis Pantelis that operated near the square of St Modestou.

An integral part of the event was the treat of Loukoumi delights. The youngsters called on the Loukoumi vendors, who were entrusted with complete discretion, and send them over to the girls that they fancied, in order to treat them with Loukoumi delights. 

If the particular girl accepted the treat it was a sign that there existed a mutual sympathy for each other and proceedings could be taken further, in order to eventually result in matchmaking. If not, it meant that there was no common ground for a "relationship" to be based on. Of course the girls were always accompanied by their mothers or their relatives and accepted the treat with great reservation. The treating with Loukoumi delights was also common amongst befriended and related families. Famous Loukoumi vendors were Yannis Anamisi, Nicolas, Lucas Kolokoudias, Katastrophas and Andreas Sotiriou Dionysis (Carpenter).

The competition elements of the event included horse races and street games. The races took place on the road from Deryneia to Paralimni and covered the distance from the location of "Lanta" to the location of "Chaousa" and return. The riders climbed on the back of a horse without saddle and the winner took the prize in form of a treasure called "Joya". The "Joya" was a handkerchief attached at the height of the saddle to a pole standing by the finishing line. Tied in a knot inside the handkerchief was a coin and the first to cross the finishing line would grab the "Joya".

Another event that was abolished, as were the horse races, was the lifting of the "Ditziimi". The Ditziimi was a round polished stone weighing 80 okas (1 oka =1.2829kg), which the young and brave men of the village tried to prove their strength with. Whoever lifted the stone the highest became the winner. At the "Ditziimi" contest Nicholas Aspris (Neolos), Nikolis Kouzas and Andreas Psaltis, who not only picked up the "Ditziimi" but also took it round the church of St. Modestou, stood out from the crowd.

As mentioned in the text above, in the beginning women used to gather separately from the men while the girls hung the "swings" in the arches of the vestibules and entertained the crowd with songs. A characteristic song of that time used to be: "My Lord, Easter is coming for the swings to hang and for my eyes to meet many dark eyed"

In the mid 1960s the organization of the "Kalifes" was taken over by the "Anagennisi" Club of Deryneia, whose members organise it every year with a small break after the tragic events of 1974. Another halt in the organization of the "Kalifes" occurred during the World War II and the Liberation Struggle of EOKA between 1955-1959.

By taking over the organization of the custom by the "Anagennisi" club, events took even region-wide character, taking place on Easter Sunday and Easter Monday with a rich program including folk music and other activities.

In cooperation between the clubs "Anagennisi" and EDON Deryneia in 1980 traditional games for children and adults like donkey races, egg races, sack races, tug-of-war, long jump, triple jump, etc., which attracted many young members of the community, amongst them also competing teams and members of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force based in the region, were included in the programme of the event.

In recent years the events have been taking place at Panagia Square Deryneia at mid-day on Easter Monday. As a large happening attracting many foreign visitors it offers a large variety of traditional and folk music and dances of various dance groups like the Dance Ensemble of the Municipality.

The present article is the result of a collective effort in text research, involving Panagiotis Platis, Nicolas Mavroyiannos, Antonis N. Katsantonis, Pavlos Karagiorgis, Tasos Xatzilefteris, Nikos G. Lilis and Marinos Stekas.

Important information regarding the custom was obtained from Andreas Xatzikoumi and Andreas Katastrofas who today both are 94 years old.