Easter in Maramures is, for me personally, a journey deep in Romanian culture. I have been going to Maramures for almost 12 years now and I am still amazed, each time, of how the people in Maramures know how to keep the traditions alive, all while embracing the modern life. This year (i.e. 2020), I was supposed to go for a third time to celebrate Easter in Sapanta, a village in Maramures, but the pandemic has derailed my plans. Nevertheless, I dug through old photos, I asked my good friend Anca from Sapanta to send me some updated one and I decided to put together a sort of a guide, explaining the readers what it’s like to celebrate Easter in Maramures and what one can expect when traveling there for this important, religious holiday.
There are a lot of styles of painting the eggs in Romania, however, in Maramures, the housewives paint them using onion skin, which gives them a dark red colour. On the Thursday before Easter, Maundy Thursday, the eggs are washed and prepared for painting.
Various flowers or leaves are pressed on eggs and then kept together with stocking, so that, after the egg is colours a nice pattern remains. As I understood from Buni (her name is Maria, but everyone calls her Buni, from Bunica, aka Grandma), the mother of Vasile, who is always my host in Sapanta, she is doing this for more than 30 years. She has such a speed in putting the eggs together, you would be amazed!
Usually, Anca, Vasile’s daughter and Mirela, his wife, would go and help Buni, to wrap the eggs in stockings, but, this year, each of them has done it themselves, in their homes.
The eggs are then left to rest, until the Saturday before Easter, the Holy Saturday. That’s when the eggs are put to boil together with the onion skins. Now, this is quite a big thing in the family, and it is one of those things that brings families together, believe it or not!
The pot, which contains the onion skins is used several times, among various family members and it is carried around the village. Some years back, I also helped out with the Easter preparations and it was hilarious how me and Anca had to carry around the pot, from one aunt’s house to Buni’s house. Of course, all the while, we had to pay attention not to spill over the pot and lose the onion leaves! I must confess, that it is a moment I won’t forget too easy.
Back to the eggs – they are boiled, for a specific amount of time, so that they have perfect consistency and the perfect colour, they are left to cool down, the stocking comes off and the eggs are oiled. It is a matter of pride to have shiny eggs for Easter, in Romania! My own grandmother can never emphasize this enough 😊
Another important ritual is the kneading of the “pasca”. Unlike the region I come from, in the south of Romania, where the pasca is made with cheese and dough, in Maramures, the pasca is a bit different. It is made entirely out of dough, it is not sweet and it usually replaces bread during Easter lunch.
From household to household, the pasca is either made on Friday or on Saturday, before Easter. Each housewife kneads the dough, leaves it to rise and then puts in containers, made out of cast iron. Usually, the kneading is either made by teenagers or even the husbands, so that more strength is added to the kneading.
The tradition says that the pasca needs to be properly decorated so, part of the dough is used to create wonderful, Romanian motifs, on top of the pasca. The motifs are known for generations and the Maramures housewives are taught by their mothers how to make them. These motifs are not only found in the kitchen, but also on their typical clothes.
Once the dough is considered to be “correctly” risen, Buni brings it to one of her neighbours’, for it to be baked. The neighbour has an outside oven and the fire has already been started. The cast iron containers are placed into the oven and the pasca is baked to perfection. Last time I visited Sapanta for Easter, Buni made about 10 pieces of pasca, so the entire family could thoroughly enjoy some. Once again, the moment was hilarious, as Buni brought back the baked pasca using a wheelbarrow!
Ahhh…the sarmale… a dish that almost everyone that visited Romania at some point in time knows about. Although it is a dish which has been taken from the Ottoman cuisine, we consider it a typical, traditional dish and we cook it for every celebration, be it a wedding, a holiday or a funeral.
For Easter, of course, we needed to have sarmale. While Buni makes her own sarmale, Mirela, her god-daughter, also makes her own. When I go to Sapanta, I stay with Mirela, Vasile and their two children, Anca and Vlad. That is why I always have a front row seat in the preparations of everything. Sometimes, I also get involved, but since I can’t do much around the kitchen, I am most often than not, given the lighter tasks 😊
The sarmale are made out of minced meat, mixed with rice and then rolled into pickled cabbage leaves. They are then placed in the oven, with some smoked meat for further aroma and some tomate sauce. Because Mirela usually fasts in the week before Easter, she doesn’t try out any of the dishes that she makes. This always amazes me, because her dishes always come out perfectly and you wouldn’t know she hasn’t tried them out.
Whenever somebody in Romania cooks sarmale, it seems that it is a matter of pride to start counting them. I noticed that, not only in Maramures, but also in my grandma’s kitchen. Whenever talking among each other or letting the family members know what they worked on, a true, Romanian housewife, definitely needs to say how many sarmale she has cooked. I, for one, never really care, as long as they are enough to go around – everyone knows I am a foodie!
Differently than what happens in my own region, in Maramures, people go home and go to bed. In Bucharest, for example, we usually come back from church, let the candle burn in the middle of the table and we start feasting on all the nice dishes we prepared for Easter (or at least some part of them!). In Maramures, the food must be blessed first. Only then, can it be served.
So, as you might have figured, on Sunday morning, everybody goes to church again, this time wearing their best, folk costumes. Each family prepares a basket with a piece of each of their dishes and take it to church to be blessed by the priest. Usually, the men go ahead, with the baskets, so that they “catch a good spot”. The women come a bit later, with the children in tow, and attend the service and the blessing of the food.
On Saturday evening, after all the tasty dishes are safely put to rest, the people of Maramures clean up and go to church for the Easter service. They go to receive the Holy Light and to give thanks that Jesus was resurrected.
The entire church service usually lasts the entire night, but most people only attend that specific part where the priest comes out of the church and starts passing the light from one person to the other. A specific song is sang and the people in Sapanta walk around the church, three times. Once this part of the service is over, the people usually head home.
Once the Easter service is over, people go to their homes and feast on a big Easter lunch, together with friends and family. One thing I particularly like in Maramures is that, it doesn’t really matter where you are from. If you are a kind person, then you will always have a place at the table. The people of Maramures are known to be hospitable, they like making new friends. For me, these friends have turned into a second family and I am happy to travel the 10 – 12 hours I need, to get to Sapanta and spend time there. If I find myself during a holiday, all the better!
Disclaimer: As I mentioned before, some of the photos used are older ones, taken by me in previous years, when I got to spend Easter in Sapanta. Others were taken by my friend Anca, this year and the ones which depict how sarmale are made were taken from Canva (an online app), because I have never thought, until now, to take photos of people preparing sarmale 😊 In the photos, you can see Mirela, Vlad, her son and Anca, her daughter (at different ages, even!) and myself!