Christian Orthodox Easter Traditions in Romania

Romanian Easter is a wonderful time of the year. Families gather together, go to mass the night before and light candles for deceased loved ones and then the following morning gather for a big traditional meal together. In this blog post, I just want to discuss a little bit about the cuisine and traditions of Orthodox Romanian Easter!

Depending on the family, a lot of Romanian Orthodox’s are very religious. My parents grew up with these traditions more so than I did due to the devoted faith of my grandparents’ generation to the church.  Typically, the night before Easter, everyone would go to mass in the evening and the mass would last for hours, until the morning of Easter. Red candles would be lit and offerings would be made to the Church such as homemade pasca, which is a traditional Easter cake/bread.

My parents were determined to teach me about such traditions from a young age and we have celebrated Orthodox Easter each year without fail. Easter in my family revolves a lot around the cuisine.

Firstly, the main tradition of Easter in a lot of Slavic and Balkan countries is eggs, specifically hard-boiled eggs. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, the main focus is on chocolate eggs and gifting them to loved ones. However, the tradition differs in Romania. We would take hard boiled eggs and boil them in vibrant, dyed water. Colours can range from orange, red, blue and green, although red is the most common one, supposedly because of the blood that Christ has shed. Certain families also paint the eggs with beautiful, traditional Romanian patterns.

Secondly, a food known as ‘sarmale’ is a quintessential on a table for Romanians. A filling of meat, rice and several fried vegetables is made and they are wrapped in cabbage leaves or grape leaves and boiled for hours on low heat. They look like small, little cabbage rolls and they are eaten with sour cream. Sarmale are usually made on Easter, Christmas and the New Year. Personally, my grandmother would always send us a bag of good, authentic and organic cabbage leaves and grape leaves as both my grandmother and grandfather own a vineyard.

The morning of Easter, everyone in the family would have a game with these boiled eggs. We would pick out an egg and then choose someone to crack the eggs with. Typically, the first person would say ‘Christ has risen’ and the second person would say ‘he truthfully has’ before hitting each other’s eggs. This would continue until the winning person would have an uncracked egg.

Thirdly, we have a few selections of desserts. Cozonac is a very common one. Dough is made by hand and filled with a chocolate paste with ground-up walnuts. Turkish delight is cut up into small pieces and also put in the cozonac. Finally, we would twist the dough like plaits and bake them. The smell of cozonac wafting through the kitchen is a very nostalgic scent and it truly reminds us that Easter has arrived. Pasca is also a popular dessert bread and certain Slavic countries also have this in their traditions. Pasca is a homemade bread that is filled with a special type of cottage cheese used within Romanian baking, a lot of lemon zest and raisins. It is plaited into a crown shape and it definitely is the star of the table.

And finally, we have red wine. Red wine is definitely the most popular alcoholic beverage at Easter. It symbolises the blood of Christ and a lot of Romanian Orthodox would choose it over other alcoholic drinks. Palinca, or tuica as it’s also known, is served. It is an alcohol made from barley or plums, clear in colour with very high alcohol percentage. Since my grandfather has a vineyard and a farm in general, he produces tons of litres of both red wine and palinca and he also sends it to us. The wine is fresh, sweet and organic in comparison to mass manufactured wine.

For the past two years, I have had to spend Easter solely with my parents and it has been a bit lonely as a result of COVID. Usually I would get together with my aunt, uncle and cousins and really feel that ‘holiday spirit’. Even amongst my studies in Maynooth University, it is really important to wind down, take a break from studies, spend time with loved ones and get in touch with my Romanian heritage. Unfortunately this year I have a take-home exam being released a day before Orthodox Easter, which is the second of May, so I will have to be careful in managing the time I can allocate for family.

I think that culture is a beautiful aspect of life and it should always be celebrated. A lot of younger people can really develop tunnel vision in relation to building their career and life for the future, so much that they don’t enjoy the present and partake in traditions such as these. I think that no matter how busy life can get, there is still an importance in spending time with family in such traditional events.

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