Romania has long been associated with bloodthirsty vampires, witches and wizards. Thanks to Bram Stoker, Romania's mysterious lands became famed for dark crafts and fictional creatures. Although some stories are nothing but the result of imagination, Romania is a place of myths, symbolism and strong traditions.
Romanian traditions are also called rites of passage, a term you may be accustomed to from fairy tales and fantasy stories. The rites of passage signify different stages in life, including birth, marriage and death. In-between these transitions, Romanian people have many beautiful and unique yearly traditions, to celebrate seasons, holidays and holy events.
Romanian Birth Rite of Passage
Fate Fairies - This is perhaps the most widespread tradition amongst the Romanian people. There are three fate fairies which come and visit a newborn in the 3rd, the 5th and the 7th night. Story has it that these fairies are meant to watch over the newborn and establish the fate of the child. This tradition is still alive today and adopted in certain regions of the country. In Transylvania for example, the midwife must put some sifted flour, salt, bread and a coin on some white canvas, somewhere in the newborn's room. If after three days and three nights the flour has traces on it, the parents will know that fate fairies visited the child.
Baptism - This is a very strong tradition for the Romanian people and practiced by pretty much everyone. The midwife plays a fundamental role during the ritual of baptism, as she is the one to take the child to church. She is meant to take a pagan to the church and bring home a christian.
The newborn's first bath - This ritual will probably make you think of witches and their magic potions. A newborn's first bath has a very deep spiritual meaning in Romania. The water is carefully prepared and it contains several ingredients, each serving a purpose. Here's the recipe:
Basil - so the child grows to be beautiful
Wheat - for the child's honour
Dill - to be loved and popular
Mint and chamomile - to grow easily and be healthy
Knobs of poppy - to sleep well
Hemp seeds - to grow quickly
Feathers - to be light like a feather
Holy water - to have a clean soul
Sweet milk - to be sweet as milk
Eggs - to be healthy and full, and always stay whole
Coins - for the child to be rich and wealthy
According to tradition, after the bath, the midwife takes the money out of the water, then pours the liquid at the roots of either an apple or pear tree, for the child to grow big and strong.
Romanian Wedding Rite of Passage
The term wedding in the Romanian language comes from the latin term "matrimonium".
During the wedding - No wedding can happen during fasting times or 40 days before Christmas or Easter. It is customary that the parents of the groom ask the father of the bride for his permission before any engagement is to be set. After approval is received, the parents of the groom walk around from house to house, offering celebratory shots of tuica (a Romanian traditional spirit) and bottles of wine. If you refuse to drink, it means you are refusing your invitation to the wedding. Back in the days, a wedding used to be celebrated for 3 days and 3 nights.
As with any wedding, the tradition is that a girl is to finally become a woman during her wedding night.
Romanian Death Rite of Passage
The Romanian burial traditions have been passed on for generation and are originated from the romans. It was customary that one should cut a tree down and position it in the front of the deceased's house. The tree must not be able to produce any flowers, hence an ever green is the most widely used for such purposes.
The cryers - If the family of the dead ran out of tears, they can hire what is called a "bocitoare" which translates to a mourner. This woman would go around crying and mourning the dead.
Candles - It is compulsory to keep a candle on for the deceased. This is meant to guide the soul in their afterlife journey. Romanian people have a special day on the 21st of November when prayers are dedicated to those who did not have a candle next to their body when they died. This also applies to those who committed suicide or died far away from their loved ones. The belief is that light will also guide their souls to find their peace in the afterlife.
Communicate with the afterlife - One of the traditions dictates that you are allowed to go to a dead person and have a conversation with them. Since they are about to go onto the "other side", you can ask them to pass on messages to other dead relatives or friends.
The watch - The "priveghi" (the watch) lasts for three days during which a priests reads out lots of prayers. The dead is carried to the cemetery in an open coffin, in a special car, which must stop seven times. The stops signify Jesus's stops on the mount Golgota. If the car containing the coffin must cross water, a canvas is thrown over the waters so the deceased won't see their own reflection. In doing so, the soul would became trapped in this world, and become a ghost.
Mirror, mirror - All mirrors and items filled with water are to be covered with black canvas for the same reason, so the dead won't become a ghost.
Funeral - At the cemetery, the priest drizzles the coffin with wine and oil then reads a special prayer. Once it's all over, everyone goes back home where the relatives of the deceased prepared a special funeral dish called "coliva". It's a sweet meal made of pearl barley and it contains sugar and nuts, and usually decorated with a cross.
Alms - As part of the alms, everyone feasts on food. On this occasion, the poor people are given clothes and all sort of items in the name of the deceased. It is said that everything received will be used on the other side. The alms and giveaways are to happen often after the funeral. After a week, then after a month, after three months, six months and one year; finally it is to be repeated yearly.
Tell me about your culture's traditions and rites of passage. Do you have anything similar to those in Romania? What is the strangest tradition you ever came across?