Today, (Sunday May 1st, when I’m actually typing this, though I daresay it won’t actually see the virtual light of day until tomorrow at the earliest), is Orthodox Easter Sunday. It’s also of course May Day, and the international day of labour and the proletariat. I wonder if Easter Sunday ever fell on the first of May during the Communist period in Romania, and if so, what they did about it. As communists they didn’t really recognise religion as such, but since religion was a useful tool of ethnic and nationalist identity (as it so often is), it wasn’t actually suppressed in quite the same way as it was elsewhere in the Eastern bloc. So, how was the conjunction of labour and god dealt with? It’s the kind of question which will interest me for about 20 minutes and then vanish into some short-term-memory black hole which I seem to have (I wonder what could have caused it?) and vanish for ever.
Still, it has reminded me of something which I wanted to inform the world (or at least both of my regular readers) about when it was “Catholic Easter” a month ago, but didn’t because, well I just didn’t, OK?
This is the Easter Monday tradition of sprinkling. I’m not sure exactly who it is a tradition for, but the majority opinion appears to be that it is a Transylvanian thing – not practiced in the rest of Romania or in Hungary or anywhere else, but if anyone reading this wishes to disabuse me of this understanding, please feel free. Hungarian Transylvanians do it on “Catholic” Easter Monday and Romanian Transylvanians do it on Orthodox Easter Monday (i.e. tomorrow). “But what it is it?” I hear you grudgingly mumble in mock interest. Well, I’ll tell you. On Easter Monday, men (and boys), go round to the houses of all the women (and girls) that they know (or at least are friends with) and sprinkle their head with water or perfume and recite a short poem which makes some reference to watering beautiful flowers in spring to make them grow and bloom. Then the woman serves them with a drink and some cake or something and they sit down together and talk for a while, before the man leaves to sprinkle the next woman on his list.
It’s dead cool. I really like it. It seems so social and so genuine. The best thing (we were in Marosvasarhely, Erika’s home town) was seeing men in suits taking their sons and/or grandsons, similarly groomed, around the town with them on this obligation. I’m definitely doing it next year. I think in villages it is a really strong tradition, but even in towns and cities it is well-observed. Obviously it has its flaws – women basically have to stay home throughout the day, for example, and the perfume thing is a recent adaptation, which not a single woman I talked to was happy about, since it leaves them at the end of the day smelling, frankly, rank covered in a potent cocktail of cheap cologne, like survivors of an explosion in a downmarket department store (and even though we were away from home, the four or five men who sprinkled Erika did leave her hair smelling so sweet (in the not-good sense) that it was actually quite difficult to occupy the same bed as her – you know, in that claustrophobic way you get when unable to breathe. Likewise, the not-so-sensible men will get well and truly hammered, as in most cases the drink that they offered is palinka or beer or some such. On the drive home from Marosvasarhely, driving through villages was even more risky than it usually is as the proportion of staggering-on-the-verge-of-falling blokes was even higher than normal (and normally it’s pretty high, frankly).
Easter Sunday, by contrast, was a family occasion of excessive food and (yet more) drink. My acceptance by the Kocsis extended family was confirmed by the little flags that had been stuck into every dish naming it in both Hungarian and English, and the appearance in the fulcrum of the meal of a special (and delicious) vegetarian stuffed cabbage alongside the more normal meat-filled version. I feel quite sorry for the Orthodoxers, as today, being much later in the year, was a beautiful warm spring day and it must have been a pain stuck up in the house pigging out. Still, it meant the roads weren’t too busy for the rest of us as we went about our Sundays in the sun. In case you’re interested, we headed for Lacul Sfantu Ana (Saint Anne’s Lake) which is the only lake formed in the crater of an extinct volcano in Europe, and happens to be about 50kms from our house. It was glorious. It’s a beautiful spot. You should come and visit, and we can show you.