Easter (Paşte), the greatest religious celebration in the Orthodox calendar, is an ideal occasion for discovering the Romanian traditions. If you want to explore the country’s rural areas this time of the year, it will be a rewarding trip, as you may have the chance to witness religious services gathering impressive processions and different regional customs, as well as to taste specific dishes.
Celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox, Easter is preceded by 7 weeks of Lent (Postul Paştelui). From the Maundy Thursday (Joia Mare) on, the Romanian housewives start preparing the painting of the eggs and other similar rituals, specific to the paschal celebration. Friday is a day of Black Fast, the devotees’ meals consisting only of bread, salt, herbs and water. This day, vinegar consumption is best to be avoided, as it symbolizes the vinegar spilt on Christ’s wounds. On Good Friday, housewives start preparing the pască, a special type of dough similar to cozonac (walnut pound cake), which is decorated with floral motifs and a cross. The Holy Saturday is dedicated to preparing the Easter dishes and for attending the Resurrection celebration in the evening.
At midnight, when the priest announces that “Christ Is Risen” (Hristos a înviat!), people answer “Truly He Is Risen” (Adevărat a înviat!) and take light from the priest’s candle, before circling the overcrowded church three times. For tourists visiting the Romanian countryside, this is a great chance to see a parade of authentic traditional folk costumes, as most worshippers wear new clothing on this occasion, usually hand woven.
On Easter Sunday, the whole family gathers for the traditional Easter dinner and enjoys special dishes. The meal starts with red eggs, which guests knock by saying “Christ Is Risen – Truly He Is Risen”. Moreover, these lines will replace the usual greetings and farewells for a period of 40 days, until the Ascension of Jesus. The Easter dinner continues with the traditional lamb meat, which can be eaten as steak, stufat (a special type of stew) or drob (lamb organs’ haggis with vegetables). In Banat, there is also a tradition of eating white eggs and boiled pork bone. The meal ends with pască or cozonac, depending on the region.
While the painting of the eggs, participating to the Easter service or eating drob and pască are consecrated customs throughout the country, there are also some traditions which differ according to the region.
In Moldavia, on the Resurrection night, girls go in the bell tower and wash the bell’s clapper with water that they will use to wash their faces on the Easter Day. It is said that the same way people run to the church when the bells are rung, boys will run to these girls. In other parts of the region, a red egg and some coins are put in a bowl with water. Children should wash their faces with that water, touch one cheek with the egg, so that they will be healthy, and the other cheek with the coins, so that they will be wealthy.
In Călăraşi, in the east of Wallachia, the worshippers bring to the Resurrection service the paschal basket in order to have the painted eggs and the cozonac blessed by the priest. They also put inside the basket a white cock. The tradition says that the man whose cock sings the first after midnight will be the luckiest in the village. After the service, the cocks are given to poor people.
Maramureş has also some special Easter traditions. In the morning of the first day of Easter, young children go from house to house to announce the Resurrection of Jesus, and the hosts have to offer each one of them a red egg. It is said that a boy should be the first to cross the house’s threshold, so that there isn’t any discord within the household for the rest of the year.
There are different Easter customs also across Transylvania. In some villages from Ţara Bârsei, around Braşov, the whole community is invited to a party. Groups of young boys gather eggs from the girls and then they all go together to have a picnic and take part in special competitions, such as throwing the mace (aruncarea buzduganului). In the area of Sibiu, a branch or a small tree, similar to the Christmas tree, is decorated with empty painted eggs and kept during the 40 days of Easter.
In the Ţara Moţilor, an ethnographic region situated at the crossroads of Transylvania and Crişana, on the Resurrection night the semantron is taken from the church, brought to the cemetery and guarded by the lads in the village. If the semantron is stolen by groups of “thieves”, the lads have to throw a feast the next day, while if the theft does not succeed, the “thieves” will have to pay for the feast.
Whether you decide to visit Romania during the Easter holiday for the special tradition of egg painting, for the unique religious celebrations or for the absolutely delicious dishes, you will always be welcomed with hospitality and warmth.