One of the most beautiful Easter traditions is the “Florii” – the Palm Sunday (Duminica Floriilor) – which is the Sunday before Easter (Sunday the 20th April this year). The holiday has roots before Christianity, in the pagan rituals of Floralia (dedicated to goddess Flora, the goddess of flowers).
The Roman festival of Floralia is dated in 238 B.C and it used to take place around May 1st. During the five days of the festival, the participants wore flowers in their hair, conducted various rituals of fertility, played games and set the animals free. It was a celebration of the Spring and many of its traditions were adopted and kept by the Christianity. The very name “Florii” reminds of Floralia and the Christian celebration reminds a lot of its pagan counterpart.
All women and men who wear flower names like Florica, Viorica, Liliana, Dalia and so on are celebrated in the Palm Sunday. People go to church with willow branches to have them blessed, and they return with these branches home where they place them around their waist in the belief that illness will stay away. Young girls sleep tonight with basil flowers under their pillows, to dream the one they’ll marry that year.
Although I was born in Bucharest, I grew up in the South, in a region called Muntenia, where my parents and grandparents come from.
I spent there the first 6 years of my life and many school holidays after, till I turned 16 and actually starting to work. I remember Easter as the best time of the year and the Florii as the most beautiful, extraordinary experience. My grandma’s flower garden was one of the most beautiful in the village. She had a wonderful heart and it was reflected in everything she did: the flowers grew more beautiful under her touch, the animals never feared her and followed her everywhere. She was very maternal, gentle and yet strong and determined – the woman I always wanted to be, my role model as a child.
She used to pick up flowers on Florii and prepare beautiful bunches to go to church, where they’d mix with flowers brought by all other women in the village.
The priest, an old, gentle man, would bless them and after the ceremony we’d all return home with willow branches, blessed water, basil flowers and spring flowers from other gardens. I always believed that those flowers were sacred and kept them close.
All week after Palm Sunday we drank blessed water which always smelled like basil early in the morning, on an empty stomach, to purify our bodies. If the weather on Florii was good we were happy because that meant good weather on Easter too – and the Easter Mass takes all believers out of the church at midnight to receive the holly light. I’ll tell you more about this soon. I still have to cover the Great Thursday and the Great Friday, before attempting to describe the most extraordinary religious service I’ve ever experienced.
In the meanwhile… I read today an inspiring blog post about an American woman’s feelings about the Romanian Easter and about my people in general. I felt tears running down while reading: “Romanian folks are generous, caring, strong, faithful people.” I felt blessed by Linda’s words and at the same time I felt the need to jump in the first plane and go back, especially now around Easter when the Romanian spirit shines stronger.
Romania is often called in our folk songs the “poor rich country.” It’s amazing how many people live so poorly, when its land hides black gold (in 1938 Romania was the second largest producer of oil in Europe and the seventh in the world), rich natural resources like methane gas (fifth world producer in 1975), gold, silver, coal, salt and much more. Where did this richness go? Why are Romania’s inhabitants living in poor conditions when the land offers so many possibilities? The answers lay somewhere in my people’s dramatic history. Centuries of foreign occupation and our most recent history (after the second World War) left deep, painful marks and changed our destiny as a nation. Romania’s former glory faded away and it lays now forgotten in history books.
There are however things that no foreign forces could take away from us. Among them our traditions and beliefs. It’s said that the Romanian spirit shines stronger around Easter and I testify that this is true. Easter is the most important holiday in the Orthodox calendar, even stronger than Christmas. The belief in Christ’s resurrection fills the hearts with more hope than his birth on the 25th of December. Somehow defeating death was always something our predecessors tried to achieve. Remember that back in the old times our ancestors, the Dacians, used to laugh at death