Easter is the most important Romanian holiday in the Orthodox calendar. I already covered a few traditions last year – and starting today I will write a series of articles that will present even more traditions, itineraries for those who would like to spend Easter in Romania this year, food recipes and more.
Last year I wrote about the Palm Day, which is the Sunday before Easter each year; the Great Thursday, which is the last Thursday before Easter; Easter traditions, Painting Eggs; and traditional Easter food – including Romanian sweet bread and lamb haggis.
This year will take a look at Lazarus’ Saturday, the Great Friday, The Small Fountain and Good People’s Easter. Food recipes to follow: coliva, Romanian “Pasca” – Easter cake with cottage cheese; Easter lamb soup; and lamb roast – yes, the lamb plays a very important role in the Romanian Easter cuisine.
Lazarus’ Saturday – Saturday, 11 April 2009
On this day the dead are waiting at the gates of Heaven to be remembered and celebrated, with traditional drinks and dishes like “coliva.” Coliva is the food for the dead and it’s prepared traditionally by widows or close family members of the deceased. The dish is used in various death related occasions, to celebrate and honor the dead. The coliva is usually decorated with a cross motif, made of cocoa or nuts and sugar. The coliva is always blessed in the church by a priest before being consumed. The ceremony is long, but beautiful – the participants join their hands in a ritual “hora.”
Lazarus is Martha and Maria’s brother who was resurrected by Christ before He entered in Jerusalem, but this Lazar doesn’t have too much to do with the Romanian traditions.
A Romanian legend from Bucovina mentions a second Lazarus, whose brother (unnamed) was rich and lived a life of luxury and extravagance. (Legend slightly different from The Rich Man and Lazarus) Poor Lazarus was also ill, and the illness made his friends and wife to leave him. In his condition he could not get a job – his only chance to survive was to beg for food. Once he went to his rich brother’s gate, but the brother denied and family relationship with Lazarus and refused to feed him. Deeply hurt, Lazarus sat down and cried his pain away. Dogs from his brother’s yard noticed his sorrow and famine and brought him food remains from the rich’s man table, who that days was also marrying and had a wedding party.
Lazarus’ brother ordered the servants to chain the dogs. When the party ended, the fiddlers noticed Lazarus, and despite he couldn’t pay them for their effort, they sang for him. The rich brother didn’t like this either, he began making fun of the fiddlers, telling them that the only reward they might receive from poor Lazarus would consist of skin eruptions. When the fiddlers ended their singing, Lazarus indeed rewarded them this way, because, he said, the skin blisters were the only thing in his possession. The singers accepted the gift, only to notice later on that the blisters transformed into gold coins.
Not long after this “miracle” Lazarus found himself on his death bed. He called his brother for help, but the rich man replied that he had no fear of Death and God. When Lazarus died the angels took him to heaven. Soon, his rich brother died too, but the devils burned his fortune and took him to hell.
Another legend, which is also an Easter tradition, comes from Wallachia. In Wallachia Lazarus’ Saturday is called “Lazarica” (which is a diminutive of “Lazarus” or “Lazar”). In the morning of the day, young girls gather and choose the youngest to wear bride’s clothes and jasmine in her hair. The girls then go from house to house, dancing the hora around the “bride” and singing of Lazarus.
According to the Wallachian legend, Lazarus was a young man who asked his mother to bake him bread. As she refused, Lazarus went to the forest with his sheep. He climbed a tree to gather leaves for his sheep, but a branch broke and he fell and died. His sisters found him later, mourned him, bathed him in milk and buried him. The legend also says that Lazarus resurrected and changed into flowers. The connection between the “bride” and Lazarus is not very clear. Romanian folklorists speculate that the origin of the custom is in one of the rituals of Dionysus, who was also celebrated in the Spring. We can certainly see some similarities: a violent death, ritual bath, resurrection and the transformation of the hero in vegetation. Thus Lazarus is a prehistoric deity, like Flora, and they are both celebrated before Easter (Flora = Palm Sunday, celebrated this year Sunday, April 12.).
A third legend places Lazarus as a small boy, brother of Dargobete’s bride (a probable connection to the bride mentioned above). Dragobete’s mother, Baba Dochia, was always mean to Lazarus, giving him the most difficult chores. One Saturday Lazarus asked his mother to bake him pies and then when with his flock of goats to the forest. There he climbed an oak tree to gather buds for his animals. Remembering the pies, and anxious to get home faster to eat them, he fell to his death. His sister looked for him for months, but the young boy was only found on August the 15th, Saint Marry’s day, covered by grass and flowers.
This legend is the reason why women bake pies on Lazarus’ Saturday and give them to the poor and the children. The pies are also baked in the memory of Lazarus the Poor (from the first legend) who prays to God for the forgiveness of the sins.
In some regions, the girls plant flowers on Lazarus’ Saturday, believing that they will grow faster and bloom more beautifully. Trees are not planted today, because people believe they will only bloom but never make fruits.