Romanians, the majority of whom adhere to Orthodox Christianity, treat Easter with a higher significance than any other holiday, including Christmas. But it's not just about the Sunday that marks the resurrection of Jesus; rather, there are a slew of holy days leading up to and following the main event. You'll want to know which days are celebrated and why if you plan to spend your Easter in this southeastern European country.
Flowers Day or Palm Sunday
Many superstitions surround the blessing of pussy willows and other blooms on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. On this day, pussy willow branches are taken to a church to be blessed, then used for protection and medicine. People often touch the blessed branches to livestock and children to keep them healthy. They'll also swallow the willow buds to remedy a sore throat or burn them to protect against severe weather.
Good Thursday, also known as Holy Thursday, is the day for painting eggs in the traditional Romanian manner. In the past, red eggs were the norm due to the color’s association with Christ’s blood. Those who are familiar with the Romanian egg-painting tradition, however, know that they have adopted a rather ornate aesthetic over time. Sometimes they are decorated using the wax-resist and dye-bath method; other times, they are adorned with hundreds of tiny beads that form traditional patterns. Romanian Easter eggs are called oua incondeiate and are sometimes blessed at church.
Three Days of Easter
Romanian traditions surrounding Easter are complex and particular. Clean clothing must be worn and a bath of water containing a red Easter egg and a coin is used for washing. The food is placed on a table the night before it's eaten. It may also be taken to the church to be blessed.
When the clock strikes midnight on Sunday morning, the church service begins. The church’s lights are dimmed and a lit candle, borne by the priest, is passed among the members of the congregation to light their own. These candles may be taken home as a reminder of the service and to spread the holiness they behold throughout people's homes. Some Romanians also light candles at the graves of family members.
On the Monday following Easter, Romanians appease the "water spirits" (Blajini) who, according to folklore, will only determine when Easter is over when they see the remains of eggshells floating on the surface of the water.
Food features strongly in the Romanian Easter tradition. Pasca, the traditional Easter cake made with cheese and raisins, is the main focus. Lamb, symbolizing Christ, is also widely served, along with a Romanian version of haggis made with organ meats. Cheese, vegetables, sweet bread, and eggs are other essential components of the traditional Easter Sunday dinner.
Romania has too many Easter traditions to count, many rooted in superstition and fortune-telling, and many are still practiced today. As in other celebrations of Easter in Eastern Europe, knocking eggs together end-to-end is a popular game. To play it, two eggs are cracked together while the first person says “Christ is risen” and the second says, “indeed, He is risen.” The loser is thought to die earlier and must present his egg to the winner so as not to be dealt a rotten egg in the afterlife.
Fires may be lit near churches or on hills for Easter vigils, especially in the countryside in regions such as Bucovina. In the past, boys may have doused unmarried girls with water or perfume for good luck or to ensure a quick marriage.
Whether you'll be spending your Easter in the picturesque villages of Maramures or in the famous medieval region of Transylvania, you're bound to come by some of these ancient customs. Just remember that many businesses will be closed during these holy days as Romanians will likely be at home spending them with family.