Ancient traditions lend charm to modern-day Romania, as shown in Cristian Lascu's five favorite cultural events.
1. Targul de Fête (The Fair of Maidens)
"The fair takes place high in the hills on July 20. The last one was on Mount Gaina in the province of Transylvania. The tradition dates all the way back to the time of the Daciansaround the 3rd century B.C. Back then young people were not allowed to meet on their own. Their parents arranged their marriages for them. Often, couples didn't meet until the day of the wedding. So this ceremony provided a chance for them to get together in the presence of elders, who sit on the grass and watch the young people dancing and singing. It's a sort of informal chaperoning. All this goes on until about noon when the women begin preparing meals. Then everybody spreads blankets and has a huge picnic."
"This is the old name for the month of March. During the Roman Empire, people celebrated the start of the new agricultural season. On the morning of March 1 parents gave their children two little entwined threads. One was white, symbolizing health, and the other was red, for love. They were attached to a silver or a gold coin. Children wore them around their necks or wrists to receive a blessing of good health and love all year. They usually took it off around Easter. The tradition continues today, but now it's mostly women who receive gifts, which can be anything from a little dog made of crystal to a puppetanything that can be hung around the neck. In some parts of the country, women give the threads to their lovers, who hang them from the first tree to bloom, and make a wish."
3. Ursitoare (Goddesses of Destiny)
"This custom is for newborn babies. The Ursitoare are three women, considered to be the child's surrogate mothers. They are spirits who can be heard sometimes but not seen. On the third night of the child's life, the godmother invites the Ursitoare by laying a table with cakes, sweets, wine, water, flowers, and anything else she thinks they would like, such as jewelry and decorations. They come down in the night to the doorway where the new mother and child are sleeping and tell the baby's fortune. The next morning the godmother listens to the mother's dream and tells her whether the Ursitoare came and what they wished for the child. Nowadays this happens in hospitals because kids aren't born at home anymore. So the godmother lays the things on the windowsill."
4. Paparuda (Rain Girls)
"This ceremony is for calling the rain to protect the harvest. It's a common practice during very torrid summers in the southeast. The Paparude are usually girls under the age of 14. They wear dresses of leaves tied together with ribbon. Then they go out on the road and start dancing and singing. One girl is selected to perform the rain goddess' birth, life, and death. People usually throw water or milk over the girls and give them coins. It's like making an offering because they symbolize the gods. In the past the girls who sang usually were Gypsies because they tended to sing in very low voices. A study showed their voices generated a certain vibration that somehow affected the water vapors and caused it to rain."
5. Cimitir Vesel (The Merry Cemetery)
"We have a unique cemetery in the village of Sapanta in northern Romania. All the crosses on the graves are painted in bright colors. There are pictures of flowers and animals, and, most importantly, some kind of scene that depicts a significant episode from the life of the deceased. And a limerick is written on each grave as humorous commentary on the painted scene. The atmosphere in this graveyard is so cheerful that you find yourself smiling. There's nothing sad about it. You can't help thinking that all the dead buried there are like members of the same club, and any new burial is greeted with a big welcome into the club. In the past, the ancestors of the village would laugh when people died because they believed they finally got to the place they should be. And they would be sadfiguratively, of courseat the birth of a child because the baby would grow up to have to face all the problems of a lifetime."
Interview by Saadia Iqbal