Monday, November 06, 2006

A Dreaded Snowy Day

November 1st is the day of the dead. This is not a festival that is celebrated in the UK, possibly that's because we're an irreligious lot, or because nobody can be bothered going to the cemetery in November when it's cold and that, or because maybe Protestants don't do it that much. But here it's a big deal. Or at least it is among Roman Catholics and memebers of the Hungarian Reformed Church (broadly that means it's a big deal for Hungarians, though there are a fair few Romanian catholics in Transylvania who do it too). I'm pretty sure that Romanian Orthodox people don't do it - or at least the Orthodox cemetery in Marosvasarhely (Targu Mures) was pretty empty when we walked past it on Wednesday evening. (I hope you appreciate the restraint needed to resist the temptation there to describe it as pretty dead).

So, the deal is that you go to the cemetery and light some candles and lay some flowers on your family's various graves. Doesn't sound especially interesting right? Wrong. It's actually really quite moving. This is mostly because it's not just one or two people going to the cemetery and doing this, it's everyone. (Or at least everyone from the Hungarian community - which in Marosvasarhely means it's loads and loads of people). And because of this, you get to bump into family members you haven't seen for years, or possibly since the previous November 1st, and you do so in this environment of quiet (yet not melancholic) contemplation and rememberance. Plus all of this happens in a kind of gently festive atmosphere because of course the cemetery is packed, with everyone doing the same thing. It's nothing like the depressing and cold event that you might imagine. To cap it all off, the main action happens in the early evening (at least it does here where nobody gets the day off work) and so the massed candles filling the graveyard create a really beautiful spectacle.

Afterwards we went on to Erika's aunt's house and partook of various alcoholic beverages (all events of whatever nature here are accompanied by palinka at the very least, and usually much more besides), while catching up with the cousins. All very enjoyable and familial and communal at the same time. Organised religion is really not my cup of tea at all, and I think it has way more faults than benefits, but it does do communal ritual very well.

And winter did, as we were promised, start. It happened on Thursday night, with a 10 cm snowfall, and continued on through a freezing Friday and cold Saturday (on which day we drove home very gingerly, having not had the chance yet to change the tyres on the car). Miraculously, as we drove back from Vasarhely, through snowy and icy scenes, mini blizzards and occasionally brilliant patches of sunshine, the only place in the entire journey which didn't have any snow on it was the valley in which Csikszereda sits. It was very odd coming down off the Harghita mountain into the valley ans seeing the fields and houses without snow on them, when everywhere else it had been a fairly thick blanket.

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