Written by : Elisabeta Iosipescu
Have you ever thought of something that could change the normal path of the real world? Have you ever thought of going back in time for real? Sometimes I do; I just open my mind’s eyes and travel back in time. I love to remember my amazing childhood vacations spent at my grandparents in Transylvania in a small village, named Vale (Valley), Cluj County. That was such a vibrant time, beautiful days, when with my cousins and friends played in the fields and forest, building tree houses or going fishing, but also helped with gardening, chores in the yard, feeding the chickens or cows.
And we absolutely enjoyed the beautiful holidays’ celebrations. What a wonderful time we spent during Spring vacations when we celebrated Easter!
It feels so good just to remember how we waited to get into all the Easter Holiday traditions. We celebrated and followed the Romanian traditions, but my grandparents’ village had its own special event just for the children, as well.
The village has a beautiful wooden church, build in 1904 on a hill with a great forest. Easter day morning was the children’s time at church. The priest allowed us to go and play inside the church and outside in the yard. Just imagine how much fun we had to be “the owners” of the church for half a day. Well, we had only one restriction, which we obeyed with sanctity: we were not allowed to go inside the altar. Otherwise, we could pull the church bells, played games or run around the church or pick up flowers from the hill.
My grandparents and neighbors made sure they kept all the Romanian Easter holiday traditions:
1. Get new clothes
2. Fast for 7 weeks before Easter, eating traditional Romanian vegetarian meals
3. Participate at the midnight Easter religious service
4. Decorate Easter Eggs and Easter traditional meals
5. The Watering Tradition
6. The Small Fountain Tradition
1. Get new clothes
One of the main rules of Easter time was to get new clothes. I loved the nice spring day, when the nature just revived, people dressed up in new outfits as well. I remember when one time my mother made me a beautiful red skirt. I enjoyed it so much. It was inaugurated at church, the Easter Day.
2. Fasting for 7 weeks before Easter. Traditional Romanian vegetarian meals
I so much miss my grandma’s delicious meals, even the “fasting foods”. Fasting in the Romanian tradition meant no dairy, eggs or meat for 7 weeks before Easter evening ceremony. The body got purified before getting the Easter communion. Therefore, almost every family of the village had at least several days of fasting time or the entire 7 weeks. They cooked the mashed beans with fried onions on top, vegetables soup, potatoes salad, mamaliga (polenta) with silvoita (gem). Silvoita is a special plum gem where no sugar is added. Tomatoes’ stew, made with tomatoes pasta, onion, flower and some spices.
3. Participation at the midnight Easter religious service
What a special time we had when together with my grandma’ and cousins got flowers from our garden and prepare the food Easter basket for the blessing at church.
I remember what a nice walk we had together from the house to church. On our way we met other people and we were happy to go together. All villagers gathered at church for the Easter liturgical ceremony. According to the tradition, at midnight, the priest exits the church with candles, from which everyone’s candle is lit. Then, headed by the priest, the believers process around the church three times, singing “Christ is risen”. The service continues in church with the communion and the sanctification of the baskets with painted eggs, cake, steak and other Easter dishes. After the service, it gives absolution to sweet, marking the end of fasting, so sanctified victuals can be eaten. Sunday at noon, the believers are invited to the church for the service known as “Second Resurrection”, which will be read in 12 languages verses 19-25 of Chapter XX of the Gospel of John.
4. Easter Eggs and Easter traditional meals
The most interesting tradition of Easter is the eggs’ decoration. In Romanian we say “incondeierea oualelor”. A special instrument is used to decorate them. It takes the form of very thin and round stick, called “chisita”. This is used to decorate different motifs with melted wax on the egg shell, after the eggs are emptied of their content. In the Romanian tradition, the most decorative motifs for the Easter eggs are: the cross, the lost path, the fir or oak leaf, various plants or animals.
Another way of painting the eggs in Transylvania in my grandma’s village was dyeing with red dried onion leaves water. It was so much fun to help grandma’ to decorate them with this healthy method. We used different small plants, which we put on the eggs. Then, with the help of a thin fabric each egg was placed in boiling water which was already dark red because of the onions’ leaves. When we took them out, the shape of the plants remained on the egg.
Another part of the tradition related to the eggs is knocking the eggs until the third Easter day. As soon as the religious service of the night or Resurrection was over, everyone was allowed to knock the eggs in pairs. The first ones to knock their eggs were the grandparents and parents, one to the other, then the children to the parents and then the other relatives and friends. It was so much fun to knock the eggs with my friends and cousin. According to the tradition, whoever’s egg didn’t cracked was considered stronger and the winner.
Besides the beautiful colored decorated eggs, we had special dishes at our Easter table. I loved the great food that my grandma’ and other ladies from the village cooked. I also loved their community way of cooking and baking. How nicely they exchanged or borrowed different spices, flour or other cooking instruments. I remember my grandma’s brick oven. Many neighbors came to bake their cakes and bread there.
One of the best and most popular cakes is “Pasca”. It is bread and cheese baked on Great Thursday. It usually has a round shape. The “cozonac” is an absolute lovely sweet cake made with poppy seeds or walnuts. Another important part of the traditional meal are the dishes made with lamb, like: “drob”, fried lamb or soup with sour dock.
5. “The Wetting” Tradition
According to the tradition, on Monday morning, the boys go to the unmarried girls with a bucket of water. If the girls sleep, the boys throw water on them. As it is believed that those girls will marry soon, they reward the boys who had wetted them by giving them the most decorated eggs and “pasca” or cake. In some places, the boys take them to the fountain or river, where they wet them, even throwing them in the water.
In the city the water was changed with perfume. When I spent few Easter celebrations in the city being a teenager, I remembered that by the end of the day I smelt like a perfume store :-).
6. The Small Fountain Tradition
In some parts of Transylvania, on the Friday before Easter week, water springs are searched for, wells are built and cleaned. All these are done as it is believed that those springs and fountain will have plenty of water and won’t dry. I guess my grandparents’ fountain was built this way because it has so much water that even neighbors come to get it every time.
There are many other nice stories to tell about the Romanian Easter. I can guarantee that whoever wants to spend this time of the year in Transylvania or Maramures or Bucovina or any other region of Romania would be delighted by the beautiful traditions, delicious food and great people’s hospitality.
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