The Most Interesting Easter Traditions

Many people know that I have lived in 8 different countries and visited many more.  Of all of those countries, the country with the most interesting traditions without a doubt is Romania. Easter is the biggest holiday in Romania.  They have Christian related celebrations all year round. They have so many holidays on their calendars that if they took off every day that is marked red, they would never go to work.  However, the make a huge deal out of Easter.

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There are actually two Easters in Romania, the Catholic Easter and the Orthodox Easter.  They usually fall a week or two apart, and this year, they are a week apart.  The reason for the two Easters is the changing from the Gregorian calendar to the Julian calendar.  The Orthodox stick to the Gregorian calendar dates, and the Catholics go with the Julian calendar dates. The rest of the world celebrates Easter on the Julian calendar date.  From what I understand, there are only ten months on the Gregorian calendar, but twelve on the Julian calendar. This year, the Orthodox Easter is one week after the Easter the rest of the world celebrates.

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Celebrating Easter begins in Romania 40 days before Easter with the great fast.  Many people do it, and if you don’t do it, those who do it look at you as lesser of a Christian than they are which I disagree with, but it is their right to have their own attitudes.  As for me, I am not Orthodox, and fasting isn’t commanded in the Bible, and is a bit foreign to me, so I don’t do it for religious purposes.  The only rules in the Bible about fasting are when Christ says when you do it, to take care of yourself, and don’t tell anyone you are doing it. It comes from a Jewish tradition of fasting and wearing sack cloth and ashes when they are sad or petitioning God for something.  The Romanians have specific fasting rules.  It is not just not eating, but not eating certain things.  Many lose weight during this time, but they do it. It is just a limited menu.

As Easter approaches, they have the Easter bunny and Easter eggs like other countries.  They observe every tradition they can and then some.  If you read my blog about where the Easter eggs come from, you will know that the Romanians call them red eggs, and that red is supposed to symbolize the blood of Christ.  However, not all their eggs are red.  They have some of the most elaborately painted eggs in the world in Romania.  People use pain brushes and paint intricate patterns on their eggs.  You can even buy wooden eggs that have been painted.  I bought several and took them back to America as gifts for relatives.

Besides the eggs, the fast, and the Easter bunny, there is even more to a Romanian Easter.  I heard one year about the priest in the village putting on a play for the people down at the Orthodox church building in the village, and I was sorry I didn’t know about it until after the fact.  At every Orthodox church building, though, in the middle of the night on Saturday before Easter, people go to a church services. After the church services, everyone gets a candle.  The priest leads them around the church building seven times.  I wanted to see this tradition when I was in Romania.  I was actually living next to where they we building an Orthodox building for a while. I was pregnant with my daughter, but I got up in the middle of the night and watched out the window as an Orthodox priest led the crowd of people around the church construction site seven times with everyone holding their candles.

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That is not all that happened at the Orthodox church building in Sibiu in the middle of the night.  Many people condemned the other thing that began happening.  They were having a big party in the street in front of the the Orthodox church building in Sibiu in the middle of the night every Easter.  I heard some of them condemning the others for going there because there were people down there getting drunk, and they were saying how terrible it was to have a big drunken party at the church building.

Still they aren’t finished.  It is a time of communion.  At that service in the middle of the night, everyone takes communion.  However, if you are used to taking the bread and the grape juice or wine at church on Sundays or like some churches do, quarterly, that isn’t exactly what is happening.  Yes, it is communion, but only the priest take the bread and the wine.  They give the bread out to the people, but not the wine.  If you can’t go, you send someone in your place, and they get a piece of bread for you. The bread is not unleavened bread, but regular bread blessed by the priest.

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Still, they aren’t finished. The reason many can’t go to the church building to get their communion is because they are at home making Easter preparations.  Easter is the day they break the great fast.  Many have been to the market and bought a young lamb to cook and are cooking it.  Yes, they acknowledge that it is Passover. In fact, their name for the holiday doesn’t mean “Easter,” but means “Passover.”  Their name for Easter is Past (pronounced “pasht”).  Besides the “red eggs’ and the lamb, they have also made cozanac, a wonderful sweet yeast bread. There is a recipe for it in another one of my blogs if you are interested in it.  There will also be salata de beouf on the table, and there is a blog among my blogs on how to make that too. It is a wonderful potato salad!  They say it actually comes from France, but all of Romania eats it.  Also on that table, there will be sarmale.  Sarmale is difficult to make, and I have only made it alone once.  It is cabbage rolls filled with ground pork, rice, tomato paste, and special condiments.  Often, the cabbage is pickled, and sarmale is downright delicious! To eat on the side of the sarmale, you will probably find mamalinga, corn meal mush, or some call it polenta.  There will be sour cream drizzled over the sarmale and mamaliga. Besides these, you will also find ciorba, a wonderful sour soup some call it borscht.  You can also look through my blogs and find a recipe for ciorba if you are interested in it.  Romanian bread will also be on the table. Romanian bread is very special bread. It is like a fat loaf of French bread. French bread is thin, but Romanian bread is large and wonderful.  You will also find cakes that the baker, the woman of the house, took painstaking time on. Romanians really take time to try to make things nice!  Their cakes may have many layers, not just two like American cakes.  The table will just be spread with all kinds of wonderful things!! Romanians are some of the best cooks in the world, and if you ever ate one of their feasts with them, you would understand.

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During the feast, there is a game they play.  They take Easter eggs and knock them together. One person hits another person’s eggs with the one they have.  The person whose egg breaks looses. After the meal, the children play games with the eggs too.  We played one with them where they were putting the eggs on spoons have having relay races while holding the egg on a spoon. If you drop your egg, you have to go back to the beginning.

They aren’t done on traditions yet.  On Easter, when you see a friend, you don’t greet them by saying, “Hello.”  You greet them by saying, “Hristos a inviat!” which means, “Christ has risen!”  The appropriate response is “Adevarat ca inviat!” which means, “It is true that he has risen!”  I was told that even under Communism, people greeted one another with this greeting, but they were afraid to be heard.  Under Communism, if the wrong person heard you, you would be kicked out of the Communist party, and if you were kicked out, there were no more promotions at work for you.  Christianity wasn’t illegal under Communism, just frowned on, so the people would whisper the greeting hoping only their friend would hear them.  Remember, the only legal church in Romania was Orthodoxy, but if you went to church, you were poor because Communism really doesn’t like Christianity.  There were illegal groups of Christians around too who weren’t Orthodox, and they called them “Pocaiti” (poca-eets) which means “repenters.” They were around, but completely hidden under Communism.

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If you go to visit a friend around Easter time in Romania, they will probably offer you a piece of cozanac and a “red egg.”  Romanians are extremely hospitable people!  They love to follow their traditions, and they have wonderful traditions to follow.  They are not in an identity crisis.  They know who they are, and enjoy being who they are. To some of them, being Romanian means they are Orthodox.  It is like Jewish people who take part in the Jewish religion because they have Jewish blood.  Tradition is the word in Romania.  Some Romanians have become part of other churches, and it makes some who haven’t mad at them and mad at the missionaries. As a Christian, I understand that Bible teachings should be preferred over traditions, but there is nothing wrong with having traditions as long as you acknowledge them as that and they don’t take precedence over the teachings of Christ.  I love the Orthodox traditions. Romania has some of the most beautiful traditions in the world!

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