Kataklysmos Day

Kataklysmos Day (Festival of the Flood)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Orthodox Christian)
Date of Observation: Between May 10 and June 13; coincides with Pentecost
Where Celebrated: Cyprus
Symbols and Customs: Chattismata, Water
Related Holidays: Pentecost


Kataklysmos is a religious and popular festival celebrated on Cyprus, with its roots in both the Bible and Greek mythology. Kataklysmos is the Greek word meaning "flood," and it refers to the Bible's story about Noah in the book of Genesis as well as to a Greek creation myth.

In the Bible story, God decides that all humankind is corrupt. He causes a flood that will destroy all life-except Noah, his wife, their sons and sons' wives, and a male and female pair of every kind of animal and bird. Noah builds an ark to hold this menagerie, and they all live on it while it rains for forty days and forty nights. They eventually land on what is now thought to be Mt. Ararat, and Noah and his family and animals replenish the earth's population.

In the Greek story, Zeus decides to destroy the earth because of human wickedness. Floods cover the earth, leaving only a small area of dry land on top of Mt. Parnassus. After nine days and nine nights of rain, a great wooden chest drifts to the spot. Inside are Deucalion and his wife, Pyrrha. Deucalion had been warned by his father, Prometheus, that the flood was coming and was able to save himself and his wife by building the chest. As they walked down the mountain into the flood-devastated world, Deucalion and Pyrrha heard a voice telling them to "cast behind you the bones of your mother." They realized that the earth was their mother and stones were her bones. They began to throw stones, and the stones took human form. His stones became men, while hers became women. To celebrate the end of the flood, Deucalion held a festival, which may have been the forerunner of today's Kataklysmos.

The celebration, which begins on a Friday and lasts until Monday, is usually held in seaside towns. Activities include games, folk dancing, boat races, swimming competitions, feasting, and listening to CHATTISMATA . The most popular custom is throwing WATER at one another, in memory of the flood that once destroyed nearly all life on earth.



Chattismata or "arguments in verse" are often held on Kataklysmos Day. The contestants exchange rhyming insults until one person can't think of a quick response, and his or her opponent wins. The responses must be immediate, appropriate, and clever. Skilled contestants can battle each other for hours.


Sprinkling water on each other is so much a part of the Kataklysmos festival that Cypriots consider it bad luck not to be sprinkled. Since they believe that the sea is blessed by the Holy Spirit on this day, having water sprinkled over one's head is symbolic of sharing in this blessing. It also symbolizes the purification of both body and soul.

In one of the traditional dances performed on Kataklysmos Day, a man balances a stack of six full glasses of water on top of his head.


Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Van Straalen, Alice. The Book of Holidays Around the World. New York: Dutton, 1986.


Cyprus Insider www.cyprusinsider.com/cidom/about/customs.asp Kataklysmos Day
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009