If you visit Romania in spring, especially from mid April to beginning of May, chances are that you stumble upon the Orthodox Easter.
In Romania, just like in a bunch of other countries from this corner of the world, Orthodoxism is the major religion with a whooping 95.5% of the population being christened as orthodox.
Similar to the Catholic Easter, the Orthodox one does not have a fix date every year. Generally for Christians, be them Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox or Greek-Orthodox, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. So: spring equinox – full moon- Easter. But from here things get even more complicated as the Catholic and Protestant churches work with the astronomical equinox – 21st of March, while the Orthodox and the Greek- Catholic consider the 3rd of April to be the date of the spring equinox. It’s quite rocket science to date it and I’m not even getting into the Old Rite Orthodox.
Easter in the Orthodox realm is a the big thing and there are a multitude of traditions and religious rituals that precede this celebration.
First of all, there is the fasting period that starts 40 days before Easter and is the longest fasting period of the Orthodox Church. During these 40 days, the orthodox are not allowed to eat any animal products, turning Romania into a vegan paradise. Just look for `mancare de post` in any menu and you’ll find heeps of plant based delicious meals.
Of course 40 days of fasting might seem quite challenging so there’s also the light version of it: fast only on the first & last week of the 40 days and every Wednesday and Friday in between. And where there’s a light version then there’s also it’s opposite called black fasting which basically means no water & food from sunrise to sundown – usually meant for the Saturday before Easter.
Fasting is not all about food, actually food is not even in a pole position. Fasting is a period of self reflection, prayer and restrain from worldly pleasures. This is why the rules of the Orthodox Church do not allow weddings and christenings during the fasting period.
The Palm Sunday or the `Florii` in Romanian, is the holiday that starts the Easter week. On this day, the Orthodox Romanians celebrate the warm welcome that Jesus received upon his arrival in Jerusalem.
The ritual for this day is to have wickers blessed with holy water during mass, wickers that are thus considered to bring good things to those who have them in their home.
Why wickers? Well, according to the legend, after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Virgin Mary was on her way to Golgota to change Jesus’s thorn crown with a less painful version. A willow tree on the side of the road was the only one which bowed in front of her and offered its wickers so she could make a crown out of them. The willow was, therefore, chosen for this privilege.
On this day we also celebrate everyone who bears the name of a flower, which happens often in Romania. So if you’re around here on the Sunday before Easter and you know someone called: Margareta, Florina, Narcisa, Lacramioara, Violeta or any other flower, feel free to say `Happy Name’s Day!`.
Now, there is mass every day during the week before Easter but we’ll fast forward to the one on Good Friday because it has a peculiar ritual linked to it: crawling under a table on one side and getting out from under it on the other side.
The meaning of this ritual is that this way, the orthodox, symbolically, go down in the tomb together with Jesus and then they come out to the light with him.
If you are curious to assist to this ritual, it usually takes place at every orthodox church after the 5 pm mass on Good Friday.
Easter starts with a midnight mass to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Usually everyone from children to the elders of the family attend mass and they come prepared with candles. The key moment is at midnight when, starting from the priest and then from one to another, people light their candles and sing about Jesus’s Resurrection. It’s quite a spectacle.
After mass everyone goes home with the lit candle and enjoys a midnight Easter dinner. Lately it’s become a tradition to go party straight after church as a lot of clubs and bars host special Easter parties.
Probably the most common symbol of Easter, the painted eggs were, traditionally, red but, in time, people have become more and more creative with colors, patterns and egg painting in general. The most spectacular of them all are the painted eggs of Bukovina which are, deservedly, considered works of art.
In Romania we do not do the egg hunting Easter tradition but we have the equally entertaining egg knocking contest. Two members of the family, each of them holding an egg, knock the eggs – pointy end to round end and vice versa. The winner is the one with the unbroken egg. Every member of the family gets to participate until there is only one.
Lamb is the traditional meat for Easter and can be cooked in several ways, but most common is tchorba (sour meat soup), roast or meat pie.
Pasca is a typical Romanian dish, a sort of chease cake that we bake only for Easter. This one is quite delicious!