Generally speaking, spring is a time for revival and resurrection of all that has been numb during the long, harsh winter months. However, in the Romanian Orthodox tradition, this time of the year is incommensurately linked to the Great Lent, which functions as a purifying practice so that the Easter finds us cleansed of all that is impure.
The Great Lent stands up to its name, lasting for seven weeks, during which one should not eat any meat, milk products, eggs or even oil, in some communities.
Also, priests do not officiate marriages in times of fasting. The first day of the fast is the last day of what is traditionally called “the week of the crazy”, because these seven days are the last ones during which people can get married before the Great Lent begins.
In the past, the last day of the marriage season was reserved for widows and widowers who wanted to remarry.
Although nowadays people do not necessarily fast, until not long ago this was a very special occasion for families to arrange a little get-together.
In the last night before the first day of the Great Lent (in Romanian, we call it Lăsata Secului), children visited their parents, godchildren visited their godparents and so on – the young visited the elder. The tradition said that the visitor had to bring food and drinks to the house of their relatives, where they stayed until late at night, partying and chattering.
The departure was a significant moment and was marked differently, accordingly to the historical region, but two elements were always present. First, the guests had to ask their hosts for forgiveness, so they would begin the Great Lent in peace and untainted, after which they all ate eggs together.
This ritual is different from village to village – in some parts of Romania everyone shared one egg, while in others each person ate one. However, it was said that the fasting period shall end as quickly as it took them to eat the egg.
There are many important moments during the Lent, especially in the last week before Easter, when special religious services are held. For example, the Denii are performed every afternoon for 7 days before Easter. It is believed that if one goes to church, assists to the service, makes a wish and then a knot on a lace for each of the Denii, his/her wishes will come true during the year, until next year’s Easter.
The Great Lent ends in the Easter Day, when meat, milk and eggs are welcomed in the menu again.
Unfortunately, all these traditions regarding the Great Lent have not really been preserved. Perhaps one could find them in the remote villages of Bukovina, Maramureș or Transylvania, but the average Romanian family hardly fasts anymore, let alone respect all these rituals and traditions related to this time of the year.