Egg painting and the holy light, at the core of the Romanian Easter celebrations

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The Orthodox Easter celebration is by far the most important religious holiday in Romania, a country where around 86 % out of 20 million people of the population is Christian Orthodox.

Some popular customs and traditions, mainly preserved in the countryside, in the rural areas, are though observed by the city dwellers as well.

The folk tradition says that having a clean house and all the cooking ritual ready before Easter is a must. This is why the cleaning starts on Great/Maundy Thursday. The villagers would strictly observe Easter traditions and preparations, with men, who are usually working, staying home on Thursday and taking out the thrash, fixing the fence, cutting wood, bringing water and butchering the lambs. Women are the ones who would paint and decorate the eggs, do the laundry and generally clean the house.

Because it’s a good thing to have a new piece of clothing on Easter day, girls and young wives used to sew shirts for them and also for their parents, brothers, husbands or children, with about two weeks in advance. Nowadays people use to buy new clothes.

In some parts of Romania, mainly in Bukovina, in northern Romania, there is a special egg painting tradition, namely using different geometrical and floral motifs. The process involves various paints and wax. The egg painting ritual is still preserved, but only a few people know the art of decorating the eggs. The eggs are painted on Thursday, with the custom directly hinting to the Passion of Christ and to his sacrifice on Calvary. After he had been crucified, Jesus’ mother, Mary, came to mourn her son and laid down under the cross a basket with eggs that run red from the Jesus’ bleeding injuries.

Initially the only accepted color was red, but other colors were gradually accepted in modern times: yellow, orange, green, blue, violet and even black. In some villages in Romania the paint is still obtained from plants.

On the Saturday before Easter Sunday, there is the tradition that people would go to the church in the neighbourhood at midnight, to take the holy light from God. The priest lights the first candle and everyone make sure that every candle is lit. This is seen as symbolizing the act of taking the light from God and is an essential part of any Romanian Easter celebration. The priest says “Christ is Risen”, while believers respond “Lord has truly resurrected!”.

After the midnight mass service the family gathers for the first Easter meal.

On the first day of Easter, there is customary for the whole family to wash in a bowl were they put red eggs and silver or gold money. The one who washes the last gets all the money. The belief is that this custom will make everybody healthy and prosperous.

In Transylvania there are some specific traditions, including the one of splashing girls and women on the second day of Easter. The purpose is that they remain beautiful throughout the year. The groups of boys wander the village until late at night, thus no girl will remain ‘unsplashed’.

Easter meals that won’t miss any Romanian’s Easter table are the red eggs, lamb tripe, ‘pasca’ and cake (cozonac).

A week after Easter Sunday, on the first Monday, a part of Orthodox Christians celebrate Pastele Blajinilor. This feast is also called Prohoadele, Easter Monday or the Dead’s Monday and is dedicated to the spirits.

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