There are many Easter customs and tradition in Romania. Many of them are still kept alive but many where lost during time.
The Easter is probably the most important Christian Holiday. Religiously it means the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. As it coincides with springtime, it is a long awaited for holiday, after the long winter.
The Easter is always celebrated on a Sunday. Monday and Tuesday are also holidays. The week afterwards is called the “Easter Week” or the “Bright Week”. Bright because by coming from the dead, Jesus Christ has enlightened the world. The week before Easter is called the “Holy Week”.
Easter customs and preparations. In Romania, people were thoroughly preparing themselves spiritually (by lent) and physically.
During the Holy Week there were preparations to be made. For the Holy Easter everything needed to be in order and the houses cleaned up. People had to prepare the food as well, so they used to dye the eggs and to sacrifice the lamb.
Traditionally until Holy Thursday, men were working in the fields. From that moment on, men were involved in house tasks as well. They used to sacrifice the lambs or the pigs, to sweep the courtyard and to prepare their holiday clothes.
- In Transylvania and in Banat, it was believed that one cannot sleep during the daytime on Holy Thursday. And those that did not obey would be “slugabed, lazy and good for nothing” all year round.
- Every man had at least one piece of new clothing for the holiday.
- On Holy Friday the lent was total: no eating, no drinking, no working.
As for food Easter customs everyone prepared paskha and sponge cakes as well as lamb steak and lamb pie. It was also called the Easter Lamb.
Paskha is what gave the holiday its name. It is a kind of bread made of yeast dough, salt and cow milk. Its shape is round with braids on the side or in the middle. The middle braids symbolise the cross of Christ.
Paskha is taken to church on Holy Saturday in order to be blessed on Easter Sunday. The paskha is baked on Holy Thursday or Saturday, before Easter. In Transylvania, it was baked on Holy Wednesday and blessed on Holy Thursday.
Egg tradition. It has its origin in a pre-Christian tradition. It was present with European as well as Asian people. “The egg is supposed to represent the Creator of the world…it was the symbol of the Universe, the creation of the supreme divinity.”
Coloured eggs, especially red, were offered on Spring Equinox during Roman times.
For the Romanians from all Easter customs decorating eggs is of special importance. There is no household where you cannot find eggs for Easter.
There are many legends about this tradition. One of them tells us about Virgin Mary who went to Jesus on the Cross. In her deepest sorrow, Virgin Mary started to cry and put her basket full of eggs at the bottom of the cross. Jesus’s blood dripped out on the eggs and they became red. While seeing the red eggs, Jesus said: “from now on, you should dye your eggs red to remember my crucifixion”.
It is said that after the Resurrection, Virgin Mary dyed the eggs red and made paskha and gave them to every man on the street saying “Christ is Risen!”.
During the Holy Week everyone decorates the Easter eggs, mostly on Holy Thursday. It is said that the eggs decorated this day will not go sour all year round.
In Muntenia, the decorated eggs were taken to church on Holy Thursday and were let there until Easter Sunday. Picking eggs for decoration is an important process. Every household picks up the most beautiful and the freshest eggs.
There are two stages in the Easter customs of decorating eggs: decoration and dying (usually red). It all starts by cleaning and wiping the eggs.
The decoration is made with an instrument called “chișiță” or “pișiță” (a small copper brush).
Drawings are made with the chișiță and some bee wax. The wax is put in a small glass above a candle to melt. The pattern is made by taking wax with the pointed chișiță and by spreading it on the egg.
There are many patterns that can be used. There are different girdles that are drawn around the egg. Other motives are: the cross, the pitchfork, the fir tree, the oak leaf, floral or animal motives.
Nowadays dying eggs is made chemically but in the past, it was made with red alder bark.
Only new pots were used for boiling plants and eggs and there was also some ammonia alum in the pot. The quantity of plants was changed during the process, not to make the eggs too dark. In Bucovina, the red eggs are also called cranberries.
At the end, the eggs are carefully wiped out. Even the cloth used for the process must be clean. The cloth is blessed and is kept over the year. In some places it is smoked as it is believed to have curative powers.
Easter eggs can have other colours as well: yellow, blue, green or black. Black stands for the ordeals and the pain Jesus Christ suffered on the cross.
The eggs that have many decorations and colours are not boiled as much as the others. They are not for eating, only for decoration. Sometimes there is a hole made in the eggs in order to take out the yolk and the egg white. But, it is said that it’s bad to keep these eggs in the house as „the devil will hide in them”. These beliefs are popular mainly in Bucovina.
During the first three days of Easter everybody does the “egg tapping”. Many believe that those who are tapping eggs will meet in the Hereafter. The two will greet each other with “Christ is Risen” and “Truly, He is Risen”.
That is why everyone wants to do this tapping with a dear one. The pointed part to be tapped is called “head” and the opposite one, the “bottom”.
In some regions, on the first day, one must tap only with the head and on the second and third day with both ends. The one that loses and has a broken egg must give it to the winner. If he doesn’t do that he will eat a putrid one on the Other Side.
On the Easter morning one has to put a red egg, water and a coin in a pot and each member of the family will wash his/her face and hands with this water. Why? They will have red faces (meaning health) and will have money all year round.
Easter customs at Easter Vigil. On Saturday Night, people go to church. Those who do not go are said to be sick all year round and will spend their time in sorrow until the next Easter.
One of the habits on this night is going round the church three times. All Christians hold a candle that is lit from the candle that the priest takes out of the Holy Table. Those who do not light their candles are considered villains. At the end of the Vigil, the priest will offer his parishioners paskha with wine.
Those who could not come to the mass will receive paskha from family and friends. Paska is the first thing to eat on the Easter morning. In the past, people used to give animals bits of paskha. The habit of paskha is present in Ardeal and Muntenia.
When you enter someone’s home on Easter or the days after, you will say: “Christ is Risen”. The person greeted will respond: “Truly, He is Risen”.
- It is considered that he who dies on Easter is lucky. On this day the heavens are open and he will definitely go there.
Among other Easter customs one that is important is playing the “toaca” .
The ”toaca” is a wooden plate on which monks or nuns beat the rhythm with one or two mallets. Being such an important day, on Easter Day is totally forbidden to listen to music or even travel. That is why young people gather in the church yard. They used to tap eggs, play the “toaca” or ring the bells. The last ones were meant to announce the whole world that Christ is risen.
In some regions church bells and the “toaca” used to be heard for three days in a row. Boys and girls would both be involved in these actions. It is said that if girls rung the bells, the linen and the hemps would grew better.
Around the holidays there are several festivals in promoting the Easter customs and traditions from Romania. One of them is the one in the Dragoteni village, Bihor County. Here, the young people are encouraged to dress up national costumes and to participate in contests of decorating eggs, playing the “toaca” or the contest of Romanian folk songs.