Easter is one of the most widely celebrated Christian holidays in Romania, and the country has its own wealth of traditions that people still maintain.believers in Romania are gearing up to celebrate Easter with their usual fervour on April 15, drawing on a rich variety of Easter traditions that Romanians have preserved.
The celebrations started with Holy Week, usually held a week later than Catholic Holy week. Despite the different date, it also begins with Palm Sunday (Florii, in Romanian), when Jesus entered Jerusalem and ends on Easter Sunday, marking Christ’s resurrection.
While most Christians observe these festivals, Romanians do things their own way. On Good Thursday, people take food and drink to church and boiled eggs are painted.
Tradition says that if the eggs turn red this day, they will keep from spoiling all year. The favoured colour for Easter eggs is, therefore red, but other colours like green, yellow or blue, are also used.
In some parts of Romania, mainly in Bukovina, in the north, there is a tradition of colouring eggs, using different geometrical and floral motifs. The process involves various paints and wax. The egg painting ritual still survives, but only a few people still know this art.
The tradition on Good Friday is to place flowers in church for Christ and to pass under a table three times, signifying the pains that Christ endured when he carried his cross to his hill of crucifixion at Golgotha.
On the night between Holy Saturday and Easter [Passion] Sunday, people go to church to celebrate the resurrection by attending midnight mass, where they light candles. They take the lighted candles home to keep the holy spirit alight in their homes, souls and lives.
At home, they eat certain Easter dishes, which include “Pasca”, a traditional Easter cake, a sweet bread called “Cozonac”, which is a slightly sweet yeast-raised egg bread, lamb soup and lamb steak. They also eat haggis, a traditional Easter dish made from the organs of a lamb, and, of course the painted eggs.
The coloured Easter eggs can be eaten now, as they are boiled, but only after the tradition of tapping the eggs between two people. This involves making a saying with religious connotations. The first person says, “Christ has risen” [“Hristos a inviat”], while the second responds, “He is risen indeed” – in Romanian, “Adevarat a inviat”.
On Easter Sunday morning, people usually go to church for the Easter morning mass. This mass is not as well attended as the midnight mass. After that, they go back home and eat the blessed food, which they have taken with them to the church.
There are many other local Easter traditions. In Bukovina, on the night of Easter, there is the custom of fire vigils. Fires are lit on hills and burn all night. In Transylvania, young girls are sprayed with perfume by boys dressed in traditional clothes on Easter Monday. This way, the girls will have good luck all year.
More than 85 per cent of Romania’s 19 million people belong to the Orthodox Church. The Church, which has enjoyed a revival since Communism fell in 1989, remains the most trusted public institution in Romania, according to some polls.
Marian Chiriac, Bucharest