Romanian Customs

For those whose winter travel plans lean toward more tropical climes, Romania offers many more festival opportunities. One of the most well-known, “Targul de Fete,” or Maidens’ Fair, takes place in July atop Mount Gaina, situated about 20 miles west of Campeni in the province of Transylvania. In decades past, the festival served as an opportunity for young men to meet girls from neighboring villages (and vice versa, of course). Since this not infrequently led to marriage, everyone dressed in his or her finest traditional attire.

With today’s less isolated lifestyle, young people no longer need an annual event to meet. Happily, though, the festival lives on and remains a time for traditional garb, food, music and dance along with appearances by some well-known folk artists.

For another colorful traditional event, in an even more splendid wooded mountain setting, don’t miss “Hora la Prislop.” Held mid-August at Prislop Pass, situated along the northerly road which connects Maramures with Moldavia, this festival attracts people from numerous regions who come, decked out in folk costumes, to mingle and enjoy the traditional music, songs and dance. Travelers often chance on religious celebrations. The majority of people belong to the Romanian Orthodox faith and it is not uncommon to come across processions of worshipers carrying flowers and icons to a church or monastery in honor of a significant event in the church calendar. In villages, such people most likely will be in traditional dress.

A major religious event takes place annually on August 15 near the Maramures village of Moisei. Villagers from around the county make pilgrimages to Moisei’s monastery for the Feast of the Assumption. Walking in village groups, sometimes for two days or more, the worshipers carry crosses and holy pictures. The majority of walkers are children and young people. In a scene reminiscent of first Communion, little girls wear pretty white dresses with white flowers, headbands or ribbons adorning their hair. Traffic along the narrow roads slows to a crawl as drivers wait their chance to pass these singing, joyful groups.

After leaving the main road, the procession continues another mile and a half up a moderately steep dirt and rock road before reaching the spacious grounds of the monastery. Most groups arrive on the 14th so the grass is covered with clusters of people who have spread blankets out and are enjoying the chance to socialize and catch up on news from neighboring villages. Some gather in a long open-fronted shelter which has been set up for the pilgrims. Even a few vendors have established temporary shop, hawking food and trinkets. Surprisingly, most of the latter are completely unrelated to religion. Many, especially the elderly, kneel in prayer before various icons set up around the grounds. Others worship in a small wooden church, typical of the region, dating to 1672 or in a larger, modern church nearby. On the 15th, priests lead special services for the thousands who have gathered in the wooded setting.

With its mountains, forests, medieval sites and traditional villages, Romania is a beautiful and rewarding destination at any time. By planning your trip around a festival, however, you’ll come away with a better appreciation of the Romanian people and their unique culture. And or course, you’ll return home with great photos, too.

by Joyce Dalton

This section is courtesy of Travel Lady Magazine