As I drove from Campulung towards Maramures in the Eastern Carpathians of Romania, I found the green carpet of the Bucovina’s forested crest mesmerising. The fluffy clouds tried hard to kiss the Golden Bistrita River. But the most striking feature on this route was the ‘museum village’ of Ciocanesti, which was declared the cultural village of Romania in 2014. The Museum of Dyed Eggs houses over 1,800 rare valuable items and the walls of about 600 houses exhibit traditional motifs found on painted eggs in an array of shapes and colours.
I was visiting Romania at the insistence of my friend Cecilia Enache who said, “Easter is the most important festival in Romania as 96 per cent of the population are Orthodox Christians. Many traditions are woven around Easter and it is considered as the Crown of all the feasts. This festival reminds us that death is not the last and final word. After all, death was defeated by Jesus through his Resurrection.”
Before I visited Romania and Slovakia, I had no clue how big Easter is in this region. Here are some of the rare customs and traditions I discovered:
You will find them in every house, church, at every Easter meal and even at picnics. How the eggs are decorated varies from one region to other. The decorated eggs are always present on the Easter table, and everyone participates in the egg tapping competitions. As I walk through the Ciocanesti village which organises a National Festival of Decorated Eggs, my local friend Raluca Veres sheds light on the Easter Eggs tapping tradition, “People who knock eggs on the first day of Easter will see each other after death. The first person who taps the egg must say, ‘Christ has resurrected’ (in Romanian, ‘Cristos a înviat’), while the second one goes, ‘Indeed, he has resurrected’ (in Romanian, ‘Adevarat a înviat’). The belief is that the person whose eggs are unbroken will enjoy the longest life.”
While strolling through the village, I see a giant Easter egg in the middle of a community ground which piques my interest to see the actual process of decorating an Easter Egg. Deep in the heart of Bukovina, in Vama, I visit an Egg Museum and Workshop run by world-renowned artist, Letitia Orsivschi. In the museum, there are over 7,000 decorated eggs from 80 countries in different shapes, sizes and designs: bird eggs, reptile eggs, large-sized and small-sized eggs (emu, nandu, turtles, crocodile, flamingo, geko, ostrich, partridge, sparrow, pigeon eggs) and porcelain eggs, among others. Orsvischi herself demonstrates the painstaking art of decorating eggs. It is a highly technical job that requires a lot of hard work, patience, and a special skill.
If there was a prize for loving the lamb, cheese, and Cozonac the most, Romania would win hands down. Sharing the details of what makes an Easter meal so special, Anda Maxim, co-founder of Pura Vida Hostel, says, “The main star of our Easter meal is lamb meat, which is served with a traditional dish like drob. Easter meal involves a large variety of Easter breads and cakes. We bake Pasca, a delicious bread made with cheese, cream and raisins. Another Easter special is Cozonac cu Nuca a sweet bread made with raisins and walnuts. A loaf of Cozonac and a few red eggs are usually the alms gift, a traditional giveaway which is believed to feed the souls of those who have died.”
While Romania celebrates Easter in an orthodox way, its neighbour Slovakia does it in a quirky style. As I walk through the fairytale-like Castle of Bojnice, my Slovakian friend Andrea Malatova narrates a beautiful Easter story from her childhood, “Bojnice looks extra beautiful during Easter holidays as it signals the arrival of spring. But Easter gave me a lot of grief when I was a kid (jokingly) because my naughty brother would pour a bucket full of icy cold water when I would still be in my bed under the pretext of following an Easter tradition. The funny part was that he would get rewarded for this action.”
Erik Sevcik, the owner of Adventoura Slovakia, further adds to Andrea’s point on why pouring water on Easter Monday is one of the most beloved traditions in Slovakia. This tradition is believed to bring health and beauty to the females and is done in good humour.
Like Romania, Slovakia has its other specials too — Wired Easter Eggs and Easter Bread called Pasca.