For a child growing up in Romania, Easter time is a miraculous tradition abundant in scents, sights and sounds. For an adult, it embodies a history of personal faith and a culinary feast – but above all Easter means national and personal culture because ‘this is how we remember and celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, like our parents before us, and their parents too.’
My memories of Easter in Romania consist of scents, sights, sounds, and… excitement.
Scents: Easter Food Traditions in Romania
Whenever I think of Easter my olfactive memory unravels scents of earthly lamb baked in the oven with lemony dill and peppery parsley called drob… drob with herbs and served with bold, crunchy spring onions on the side… a meal crowned by mouthwatering sweet loafs and boiled eggs, lush in their Easter colorful coating.
The food for Easter was prepared in advance and during lent (although as a child I never abstained myself from eating meat-products). My grandmother, who was originally from Moldova, would bake Easter pasca and cozonac. Mom, Ardeleanca as she is, would cook (and she still does) mouth-watering, tender lamb dishes – especially the drob.
The cozonac, no matter how sweet it smelled, how fluffy and tall it rose, was to be observed, but not eaten during lent… One could look, enjoy its promising scent of nuts, vanilla, and Turkish delight, but one had to wait for Easter night. It was tradition.
This year we made Pasca too. Pasca is a celebratory Romanian Easter bread that brings together the memory of Jesus sharing bread with his disciples, and the millennial tradition of shepherding. It is the sweet taste of the Resurrection Morning, marked with the Holy Cross .
On a bed of cozonac, in a round embrace of sweet dough, marked with a cross, lies the sweet mixture of sweet cheese, eggs, sugar, vanilla essence, lemon zest and raisins.
A short history of Pasca at Easter time
Lamb and bread have beautiful traditions for Jews and Christians at Easter time.
For Jews, the lamb is a reminder of the sacrifice of the paschal lamb on the eve of Exodus from slavery in Egypt, when its blood was smeared on door frames so the Angel of Death will pass over them, Passover, and not kill the first born child. And unleavened bread is eaten too, as when the Israelites were allowed to leave, they could not let their bread rise and so they brought matzo. The lamb is eaten with bitter herbs, maror, that symbolizes the bitterness of slavery in Egypt.
During the Last Supper, Jesus and his apostles ate lamb and matzo (azymes).
For Christians, lamb is a symbol of Christ, His body and sacrifice, while the bread and red whine symbolize, through the Holy Spirit, the body and the blood of Jesus Christ – through which we reconnect with God.
Yet historically speaking Pasca is connected with Easter only through the unleavened bread eaten alongside lamb at Easter. In Christian tradition this passing has a different meaning, that of Jesus’ passing from death to life, from earth towards Heaven, in the Night of Resurrection, Easter Night. This joy has been translated into Easter traditional food, Pasca.
Shepherding has a millennial tradition on this old land known today as Romania. Between the Tatra Mountain in the west and the Caucasus in the East, from the northern Carpathians to the mountains of Greece, thus stretched the playground of Vlach shepherds, over 1000 years ago. The shephetds created a solid community with social connections and a cultural unity.
It would have been them who, mixing sheep cheese with honey, and eggs, would have topped the wheat bread and baked the first Pasca, with the generosity of a king even on the sheepfold atop the mountain – a prayer and a blessing for abundance of cheese and eggs, on Easter Sunday.
As we were new to pasca and I wasn’t sure about proportions especially where the cheese filling was involved, we used the pasca recipe provided by Savori Urbane – with heartfelt thanks to Oana and Diana.
Sights of Easter: red eggs and a sea of candles on Easter Night, at Resurrection Mass
To this day, my sights of Easter include red, yellow, green, and even blue colored eggs. Painting eggs was a right of passage, task that, with time, became mine, and was done on the Thursday or the Saturday before Easter (never on Good Friday). The colored eggs, too, would wait for Easter night, shining patiently from their basket.
Later I tried my hand at painting intricate motifs on them. It wasn’t the final product that mattered, but being part of something bigger than myself.
As is attending the midnight mass at Easter.
Bringing home the Holy Light of Easter
The excitement: attending an outdoors midnight Church service, then bringing home the Light of Resurrection, in the shape of a lit candle! (Where does it come from?)
On Saturday night, before midnight, families – big or small – would make their way to the nearest church. There is a whisper in the air, a measure in the step, a pious bowing of the head. We would wait in the church yard, already filled with neighbors. We would wait for the stroke of midnight, when the Priest would step outside with his candle, alight with the Holy Light. And from one small candle to the next, from one believer to the next, its hope – its light – would spread across the church yard.
Then everyone would sing, as one, the Holy Resurrection Hymn, a heartfelt confession of resurrection, and of the joy and faith a Christian holds in Christ’s promise.
“Hristos a înviat din morți
Cu moartea pe moarte călcând
Si celor din mormânturi
“Christ has risen from the dead(Holy Resurrection Hymn)
Trampling through death with His death,
To all those entombed.“
We would cradle, and protect, and take home the Holy Light of Easter.
Below is a 3 minutes video recording from the Metropolitan Cathedral, Iași:
Excitement: Egg knocking, or tapping, at Easter in Romania
The first person holds a colored Easter egg and says “Christ has resurrected” (‘Cristos a înviat’ in Romanian), while the second person answers, holding his colored egg, “Indeed, He has resurrected” (‘Adevarat a înviat’) – then the eggs are knocked.
The best Easter meal was the one we enjoyed right after the midnight mass, knocking eggs, taking a bite of drob with spring onion, and a bite or two of cozonac.
To this day, eating hard boiled eggs with spring onion tastes like Easter to me.
Christos a Inviat!
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