Romania: Easter in Maramureș

Easter is one of my favorite holidays so when I realized that Easter is a particularly big deal in Romania, and especially in Breb, I planned my entire trip around it.

The holiday starts at midnight on Saturday night. The whole village goes down to the churchyard to leave candles on the graves of their relatives. It’s absolutely beautiful because their crosses are already kinda of fancy (carved wooden crosses with little metal ‘hats’ to protect from snow) and then the pretty red votive glass flickers in the candle light. Then everyone gathers around the entrance to the church and the bells play a song. Along with the bells, someone was up in the bell tower knocking two wooden sticks together as some kind of musical accompaniment. It was really unusual but awesome. After a short hymn, they pass a flame around the crowd, liking candles with the holy flame that everyone carries back to their home.

The next day, Easter Sunday, is the day everyone gets dressed up for church and a big feast. Everyone gets all dressed up in the beautiful clothes most of them have made themselves. Today the women wore their handmade skirts and embroidered blouses with bright scarves. Some of the ladies wore modern blazers with their skirt and bright red heels. The men wore slacks and shirts with handmade black lambswool vests. Apparently, on Easter Monday they dress up in even more traditional garb.

Some of them men wore these amazing little straw hats. Everyone looked so great. The skirts and scarves are actually a really fresh style.

We were invited along to the church with the family of the woman who hosts dinners for the hotel guests. It was really lovely of them to have us along, especially because we had no common language beyond ‘please, thank you, and good’.

The church is so gorgeous. The sexes are still segregated, so men stand in the front (entering through a side door) and women stand in the back (entering through the main entrance). When the women entered they first went to a picture of Jesus and Mary, which they kissed and then left a donation. There are no pews and much of the service is spent kneeling on the ground. I was fucking dying, it hurt to much to kneel on the hard wood floor, but all these ancient old ladies had knees and backs of steel!

Once you’ve had enough of the service, you go outside and form a big circle with your easter baskets. Only the women circled up and the men stood outside it mingling. Soon the priest comes out and he walks around the circle splashing holy water off an olive branch (?) onto the baskets whilst chanting something to the effect of “He has risen”.

The baskets are the best Easter baskets ever. They are full of hand embroidered towels, homemade wine and tweeka, dyed eggs, and home-smoked meats and cheeses. The candles are decorated by hand too. Having the food in your basket blessed seems to me to be the true origin of the silly Easter baskets we fill with candy now in America.

We were generously invited back to our host’s home after the ceremony to eat some of the blessed food. They shared with us some bread and smoked pork, horseraddish, and “green” wine. We tried our very best to hold a conversation in our most desperate attempts at Italian/Romanian/French for well on 30 minutes. It was amazing we got anywhere at all!

Out host showed us the egg fighting game with the eggs she decorated with flowers and onion skins. It was such a traditional Easter, I fucking loved it.

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