“The very first Easter taught us this: that life never ends and love never dies.” – Kate McGahan
Some of the sweetest memories from childhood I carry with me wherever I go. A special feeling and energy that accompanies Easter is something I missed re-living for a few years now. I’m a person that easily adopts the traditions and customs from the host country but these special feelings that I’m living in Romania for Easter are something my soul has longed for.
Easter in Northeastern Romania
First and foremost, Easter is a holiday to reflect on your life and appreciate everything you’ve got and all you’ll get to live in the future. Easter in Romania has a sacred value as it is firmly rooted in religion, with most of the associated traditions being of Orthodox origin.
During this holiday, Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from death three days after he was executed by crucifixion, as narrated in the Bible. The date changes from year to year, but the resurrection is always celebrated on a Saturday night so that the first day of Easter is a Sunday.
Previous to Easter celebration (or the Resurrection) there is Easter lent that is the longest of all four main lent periods in Romania and lasts for forty days plus the week before Easter, also known as the Passion Week or Holy Week.
During this time, the Orthodox Christians abstain from all kind of animal products (dairy, meat, eggs, etc). The Friday before Easter our parents used to give up entirely food and water until the sunset. Before eating they would pray, drink holy water and eat wafer. This is meant to ward off diseases throughout the year.
This period is mainly used for the “cleansing” of the soul in which people are invited to pray more often, reflect on their life, forgive, confess their sins and try to become better persons.
The Holy Week brings with it great emotion as in the village children and adults go to church every evening for denii (vigils). There is a special atmosphere in the village and people behave differently. They become more aware of themselves and more tolerant of each other. As Easter takes place during the spring, the flowers and the blossomed trees add to this special atmosphere making it even more beautiful.
If it happens to be a girl then you have to help your mother bake, cook and prepare the house for the holidays. As a boy, you would have to help the father in the garden preparing it for the spring (clean after a long winter and plant seasonal vegetables).
Easter is used as an occasion to clean, paint and varnish the house. So people in the village prepare their souls and houses to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.
In the families with lots of kids, mothers would bake for a whole day, in large brick ovens, bread, cozonac (sponge cake) and pasca (a special pastry with a sweet cheese filling and raisins that is flavored with vanilla essence).
I remember my mom gathering with other 2 or 3 women and spend the day around the oven, baking around 20 sponge cakes (cozonaci), 10 pasti for the family. Why so many? Because families get together, share food and give away food for the ones in need (poor families). It was an unwritten rule that each family that could afford had to give away food for the ones that didn’t have enough to provide for their children.
Nowadays, some of the traditions in the village suffered modifications, yet Easter is one of the most beautiful religious holidays.
Traditions for Easter
The traditions surrounding Easter are pretty complex and held special meaning in the hearts of most Romanians. Here’s a roundup of some of the most significant ones (the traditions might vary from region to region):
– Painting boiled eggs. This takes place on a Thursday before Easter (also known as the Holy Thursday). The traditional color to dye the eggs with is red which symbolize Jesus’ blood when he was crucified. Nowadays, a wide range of colors and decorations are used. Yet, natural coloring methods, such as boiling the eggs in water with red onion peel or beetroot are still being used in rural Romania.
– Decorating the eggs with incredible craftsmanship. In the village I grew up in this tradition didn’t exist but other places in Romania, mainly Northern Romania – Bucovina, is famous for its artists who hand-paint eggshells in different geometrical and floral motives, an art form which was passed down from generation to generation.
– Attend church on Easter Saturday. All the village put on festive clothes and attend the midnight service at the church. A few minutes before the clock strikes midnight, all the lights in the church are turned off. At midnight, the bells ring and the priest comes out of the altar with a lit candle and “gives the light”/passes the light to the whole community.
Each person will pass the light to the next, saying “Hristos a Inviat” (Jesus is risen) and the one taking the light will answer “Adevarat a Inviat” (Indeed is risen) until everyone’s candles are lit. This represents the risen Christ, as a symbol of life (light) dismissing the death (darkness).
With candles in their hands, people circle the church three times signing “Hristos a Inviat”. Then all village, led by the priest, will go to the cemetery to lit candles for the deceased ones and pray for their souls. In my village, the cemetery is located a bit further from the church so people will walk with candles in their hands singing “Hristos a Inviat”.
In the old times, the village’s lads lit huge piles of wood and tires so that the lad which will make the biggest flame would be the proudest of them. This tradition is supposed to help chase the darkness (evil) away as well as banish the winter and welcome spring.
– Playing the semantron and ringing the bells. The semantron is a large, heavy, fixed timber or metal block suspended by chains. The percussion instrument is used during the liturgical service. On Easter Saturday, the semantron announces the Resurrection of Jesus and calls Christians to gather for the service. At midnight, the bells and the semantron create a magnificent sound that occurs with the lightening of the candles and covers the whole village in a special atmosphere.
– Knocking dyed eggs together end-to-end. After returning from the church it is customary for people to knock eggs. While the two eggs are cracked together, one person says “Jesus is risen” to which the other responds with “Indeed is risen”. The person who manages to crack the other person’s egg on both ends is considered to be the winner.
Traditional food for Easter
After fasting for such a long period of time, it’s no surprise that most Romanians look forward to Easter to enjoy all the food included on the menu.
In the households, the preparations for Easter start at least a couple of days before so there is enough time to cook all of the fantastic food.
As a small child, I was allowed to not fast so that when my mom baked those special pastries for Easter (usually on Thursday before Easter) I could enjoy them.
The preparation and the baking time seemed an eternity and the smell released by the magical oven made it almost excruciating to bear. That first piece of warm cozonac delighted all my senses and brought such satisfaction.
Food is a big part of the holiday, with families and friends that gather together for Sunday lunch and dinner as a way to commemorate the revival of Jesus. The variety of traditional Easter food ensures there’s something for everybody to enjoy on the table.
Here are just a few examples:
– Dyed eggs – you can’t have Easter without eater a couple of hard-boiled eggs. A pinch of salt or mustard is all you need to enjoy this long-lasting tradition.
– Roast lamb steak – usually served with spring roasted vegetables.
– Drob – a lamb organs’ haggis with vegetables and boiled-eggs center.
– Traditional sponge cake (cozonac) – a delicious sweet bread filled with walnuts and cocoa cream.
– Pasca – a special kind of pastry with sweet cheese filling and raisins.
– Red wine – it’s considered to be the best accompaniment of the lamb steak, especially if it’s produced locally by villagers.
– Sarmale – minced meat in cabbage rolls with heated together with sour cream and polenta.
For the ones that gave up meat is quite hard to be a good guest, having to always refuse all the goodies for which the ladies of the house worked so hard to prepare and tried their best to make them as delicious as possible. However, even in the village people are getting accustomed to the changes and try to keep up with the time.
Do you know or have you heard of different Easter traditions? Share them with us!