St. George in the Romanian folklore tradition: Spring revival and fight against the forces of evil

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Spring folklore customs are related to the holiday of the Holy Great Martyr George, one of the most venerated saints in the Orthodox calendar, celebrated on a fix date every year – April 23.

According to ethnologists, in the folklore tradition St. George is known as Sângiorz and is considered to be “the god of vegetation, protector of green nature, of the cattle and sheep”.

Sângiorz is the saint that makes the forest green and opens the pastoral year. More precisely, Sângiorz “is closing the winter while opening the  summer” and is in the opposition to Sâmedru, another saint celebrate at the end of October. Both Sângiorz and Sâmedru keep “the keys of the year”, with Sângiorz “closing the winter and opening the summer” on April 23 and Sâmedru “closing the summer and opening the winter” on October 26.

The holiday of Saint George binds to more popular customs of pagan influences. So, besides the agricultural and pastoral meanings of the holiday, it was also perceived as a time of fighting against the forces of evil.

As St. George is a major celebration of spring, people believed they were entering a sacred time frame, being convinced that the force of nature could be influenced. So, many customs in the Romanian tradition refer to keeping the ghosts and witches away, as they wanted to steal the cows’ milk and or to remove the fruit of the field.

For instance, in many regions of Romania, the custom was to put lovage at the gate, in the stables, at the windows to keep away the witches who wanted to steal the milk of the cows.

In other regions, people used to bathe before the sunrise in a running water in order to be healthy all year long and to wash away all evils. In other villages, peasants and priests used to take the cross out on the field and pray for rain and rich crops.

In the strict religious context, very few things are known about Saint George. He is believed to be born around 270 in Capaddocia (now in Turkey). He apparently died on April 23, 303, after he was tortured and executed following the order of the Romanian Emperor Diocletian. His name comes from the Greek Geōrgios, which means farmer, worker of the field.

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