Csíkszereda Musings

My life in and around Csíkszereda, also known as Miercurea Ciuc.

Archive for the ‘traditions’ Category

East of Easter

Posted by Andy Hockley on 20 March, 2008

So, it’s Maundy Thursday. No idea what that means, but it’s the day before Good Friday. At least it is the day before Good Friday for some people. (In Hungarian it’s “Big Friday” by the way). Obviously for people outside the christian world, it’s not, and also for many people within the christian world it’s not either. This is because the orthodox church in the various countries that have one has easter at a different time. It’s a sort of strange weekend in Csikszereda and around, then, because while it’s easter for “us”, it’s not easter for most of the country. As far as I can tell Orthodoxers (? – Orthodoxicals? Orthodontists?) refer to the easter that’s coming up as “Catholic Easter”, on the basis that all christians who are unorthodox are catholic or something. I’m not convinced everyone in Northern Ireland would be totally OK with that distinction.

Last year the easters coincided (though I spent easter in Pakistan, where it wasn’t really much of a big deal), but this year the two easters are over a month apart, so while Monday will be pretty much a public holiday in this part of the country, the rest of Romania won’t take the day off until sometime at the end of April. Though I read today that a large number of people and most schoolkids in Bucharest will be off for three days at the beginning of April for this NATO summit thing. No idea why. Are they expected to line the streets cheering the arrival of Gordon Brown or something?

We’ll be off up to Marosvasarhely for the traditional easter Sunday family dinner, before braving the traditional easter Monday dangerous drive home. Dangerous because the tradition on easter monday is for men to go round visiting all the women they know, read a poem, sprinkle them with scented water, and receive a glass of palinka for their trouble. Thus negotiating the villages in a car on the Monday afternoon with dangerously legless blokes staggering from house to house is always a challenge.

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Posted in traditions | 6 Comments »

Reunion

Posted by Andy Hockley on 2 July, 2007

No, not the French island off East Africa.

I have never been to a school reunion. Not of my secondary school, not of my (excuse British-ism) VIth form college, not of my University. I have never even been invited to one, and have no idea if such things have ever been held. I have to assume not, since I can’t be that hard to track down – while I have moved a lot and all over the shop, my folks have lived in the same place since I was 7, and I really honestly wasn’t so unpopular that I would have been deliberately “forgotten” when invitations were being sent.

Here, however, these reunions are not only held, but have quite a specific format. I know this because on Friday we went to Erika’s back in Marosvasarhely (Targu Mures). The whole thing kicks off with an “Oszi ora” (spelling very possibly wrong) in which the class reconvenes in their old classroom with their old teacher and says something about what they’ve been up to/cracks a joke etc. That is in the afternoon, and then in the evening there is the party to which the spouses, partners, etc get invited.

What’s especially interesting about this particular class is that the vast majority of them have emigrated. Erika is one of the few of her classmates who still lives in Romania, while the others are in Hungary, Luxembourg, Germany, Canada, the US, Switzerland, etc. This, I think, very much reflects the time at which they graduated high school and the circumstances in which they found themselves. Marosvasarhely/Targu Mures was (for Hungarians) particularly hard hit by the Ceausescu years. This is obviously not to say that everyone wasn’t hard hit by Ceausescu (well nearly everyone, people like Iliescu obviously did alright). Then in 1990, post Ceausescu, the city was the location for Romania’s only serious inter-ethnic conflict between Hungarians and Romanians (Human Rights Watch report), and I think for many people at that time, especially Hungarian young adults, it may have been seen as a time to get out while it was momentarily possible. Obviously things didn’t turn out for the worst, and the riots and attacks were an isolated incident and while the ethnic balance has shifted in the city (it is now majority Romanian), people’s worst fears were not realised. But they have resulted in the emigration of a large section of the Hungarian population who were old enough to remember the 80s, young enough to not have built up a vast set of ties and responsibilities within the town, but adult enough to have been free to leave in the early 90s. (I susepct I have rather ungallantly given Erika’s age away here, or at least led the reader to guess exactly which high school reunion we were celebrating)

Anyway, the party was very good, aside from the food which was bloody rubbish (a universally held opinion, not just mine). I’m even getting used to being at parties at which all the music is entirely unfamiliar to me. As ever it went on until the hours were no longer so wee (I’m still taken aback about how long parties go on here), and there were even people present who spoke less Hungarian than me. There was a football match the following day between the class boys and the husbands of the class girls. I didn’t play, because (a) we had to get back to Paula, (b) I didn’t know about it, and so had no suitable shoes, and (c) I’d only got to bed after 5 and had consumed a fair amount of booze and I am no longer capable of indulging in that kind of madness (and to be honest I’m not sure how any of the others were – I mean the nature of the event means that there isn’t that great an age range between potential participants).

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Farewell for another year, Búcsú

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 May, 2007

Well, it was hot for the pilgrimage. Very very hot. And since the culmination of the event involves climbing up a fairly steep slope in order to take part in the mass in the saddle of a hill, it was quite brutal. Pilgrims are not necessarily athletes, and there were some people who really looked like they were suffering (a couple of very overweight blokes I saw looked like they were about to keel over even before the climb started). At the top, the bloke who was speaking over the PA system pre-mass kept telling people to respect the sanctity of the event and to please not take all their clothes off. But not that many people were paying attention, or at least, they felt the statue of the virgin would understand their need to cool off a tad.

The mass was a bit of a laugh because the priest giving the sermon was such a grumpy old sod. Here he has 400,000 people all there ready for him to fill them with passionate love of the catholic faith and joy at being in the presence of such a huge communcal gathering. But no. Instead he goes off on one about how people (ie his audience) were coming for the wrong reasons and young people were just there to do drugs and party wildly for the weekend and that all those listening were in fact a bunch of miserable sinners who all ought to be seriously penitent and then some.

I guess I really just don’t get this strand of guilt and abuse in the Roman Catholic church (and in many others it has to be said). What does it say about human nature that so many people in the world are Catholics? Are we really all just a bunch of masochistic vagrants who are desperate to be taken in hand by a strict father figure who’ll give us a metepahorical seeing to with his belt? I suspect I’ll never understand humans.

To some extent he wasn’t wrong though (though he might need a sense of humour transplant) – this supposedly sacred experience does have all sorts of other extraneous bits attached. Many of these pilgrims, it is true, did not actually come for the opportunity to be especially holy in any way. Yes, there are a bunch of young people who show up and camp out on the hill and have a weekend party (though I suspect most of them who do are fairly religious and partying is done in a low key and catholic way), and yes there are many for whom the weekend is less about religion and more about Hungarian identity and nationalism (witness the presence at this year’s event of László Tőkés, who is pretty much the accetable public face of Hungarian nationalism in Romania, but who is a bishop in the Reformed Church – why was he at an RC mass?).

If the priest had been that fussed about people not according the pilgrimage its proper respect, he should have made a point about how it wasn’t supposed to be used for nationalistic purposes. But he didn’t. Funny that. Not that the church (any church/mosque/temple/synagogue) is ever guilty of siding with nationalists, obviously, no sirree.

The town is still full of cars registered in Hungary – I think today (Monday) is a holiday in Hungary, so people are taking their time going home. Overheard in a cafe yesterday:
Group of young Szekely blokes: Welcome! Where are you from?
Older couple: Debrecen, in Hungary.
Szekely blokes: And you speak Hungarian? Wonderful. You speak it so well.

(This references the possibly apocryphal but often told story about Hungarians from here going to Hungary and having people surprised that they speak Hungarian “so well”. The conversation above was all light hearted, though, and ended up with the groups joing for a beer together)

Posted in csikszereda, hungarian nationalism, traditions | 1 Comment »

Farewell for another year, Búcsú

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 May, 2007

Well, it was hot for the pilgrimage. Very very hot. And since the culmination of the event involves climbing up a fairly steep slope in order to take part in the mass in the saddle of a hill, it was quite brutal. Pilgrims are not necessarily athletes, and there were some people who really looked like they were suffering (a couple of very overweight blokes I saw looked like they were about to keel over even before the climb started). At the top, the bloke who was speaking over the PA system pre-mass kept telling people to respect the sanctity of the event and to please not take all their clothes off. But not that many people were paying attention, or at least, they felt the statue of the virgin would understand their need to cool off a tad.

The mass was a bit of a laugh because the priest giving the sermon was such a grumpy old sod. Here he has 400,000 people all there ready for him to fill them with passionate love of the catholic faith and joy at being in the presence of such a huge communcal gathering. But no. Instead he goes off on one about how people (ie his audience) were coming for the wrong reasons and young people were just there to do drugs and party wildly for the weekend and that all those listening were in fact a bunch of miserable sinners who all ought to be seriously penitent and then some.

I guess I really just don’t get this strand of guilt and abuse in the Roman Catholic church (and in many others it has to be said). What does it say about human nature that so many people in the world are Catholics? Are we really all just a bunch of masochistic vagrants who are desperate to be taken in hand by a strict father figure who’ll give us a metepahorical seeing to with his belt? I suspect I’ll never understand humans.

To some extent he wasn’t wrong though (though he might need a sense of humour transplant) – this supposedly sacred experience does have all sorts of other extraneous bits attached. Many of these pilgrims, it is true, did not actually come for the opportunity to be especially holy in any way. Yes, there are a bunch of young people who show up and camp out on the hill and have a weekend party (though I suspect most of them who do are fairly religious and partying is done in a low key and catholic way), and yes there are many for whom the weekend is less about religion and more about Hungarian identity and nationalism (witness the presence at this year’s event of László Tőkés, who is pretty much the accetable public face of Hungarian nationalism in Romania, but who is a bishop in the Reformed Church – why was he at an RC mass?).

If the priest had been that fussed about people not according the pilgrimage its proper respect, he should have made a point about how it wasn’t supposed to be used for nationalistic purposes. But he didn’t. Funny that. Not that the church (any church/mosque/temple/synagogue) is ever guilty of siding with nationalists, obviously, no sirree.

The town is still full of cars registered in Hungary – I think today (Monday) is a holiday in Hungary, so people are taking their time going home. Overheard in a cafe yesterday:
Group of young Szekely blokes: Welcome! Where are you from?
Older couple: Debrecen, in Hungary.
Szekely blokes: And you speak Hungarian? Wonderful. You speak it so well.

(This references the possibly apocryphal but often told story about Hungarians from here going to Hungary and having people surprised that they speak Hungarian “so well”. The conversation above was all light hearted, though, and ended up with the groups joing for a beer together)

Posted in csikszereda, hungarian nationalism, traditions | 3 Comments »

Frozen Saints

Posted by Andy Hockley on 11 May, 2007

It was cold yesterday, much colder than it has been for ages. I went out for a bike ride in the afternoon, and actually needed to work harder just to stave off the chill. Then Erika mentioned that she thought that it was one of the frozen saints’ fault.

The frozen saints “Fagyos szentek” are Pongrác, Szervác, and Bonifác (and possibly Orban). I’m still trying to work out what those names translate as in English, without much success, but since they’re Saints, they must have equivalents – Bonifác is, I believe, “Boniface” and Orban “Urban” but I have never heard of anyone actually called these names, so probably Pongrác and Szervác are even more obscure.

Their relevance to the weather is that in May there are 3 or 4 days which are (according to folk wisdom) always cold – and in fact it is advised that you don’t put your crops/plants that could be damaged by frost out until after the last of them has been and gone. These days are the saints days of Pongrác, Szervác, Bonifác, and Orban. But having done a bit of checking it seems like the first three are actually May 12th, 13th and 14th (ie not yesterday but this weekend). More details (in Hungarian). Orban is on the 25th.

So now you know. If tomorrow is cold it’s the fault of that bloody St. Pongrác. Who, having done a bit more googling, seems like he might actually be St. Pancras. One of those saints (perhaps the only one) who is more commonly known as the name of a railway station. In fact, until that moment I hadn’t stopped to consider that there was someone around once who was called Pancras. Amazing what appears when you start aimlessly looking stuff up.

Posted in traditions, weather | 2 Comments »

Frozen Saints

Posted by Andy Hockley on 11 May, 2007

It was cold yesterday, much colder than it has been for ages. I went out for a bike ride in the afternoon, and actually needed to work harder just to stave off the chill. Then Erika mentioned that she thought that it was one of the frozen saints’ fault.

The frozen saints “Fagyos szentek” are Pongrác, Szervác, and Bonifác (and possibly Orban). I’m still trying to work out what those names translate as in English, without much success, but since they’re Saints, they must have equivalents – Bonifác is, I believe, “Boniface” and Orban “Urban” but I have never heard of anyone actually called these names, so probably Pongrác and Szervác are even more obscure.

Their relevance to the weather is that in May there are 3 or 4 days which are (according to folk wisdom) always cold – and in fact it is advised that you don’t put your crops/plants that could be damaged by frost out until after the last of them has been and gone. These days are the saints days of Pongrác, Szervác, Bonifác, and Orban. But having done a bit of checking it seems like the first three are actually May 12th, 13th and 14th (ie not yesterday but this weekend). More details (in Hungarian). Orban is on the 25th.

So now you know. If tomorrow is cold it’s the fault of that bloody St. Pongrác. Who, having done a bit more googling, seems like he might actually be St. Pancras. One of those saints (perhaps the only one) who is more commonly known as the name of a railway station. In fact, until that moment I hadn’t stopped to consider that there was someone around once who was called Pancras. Amazing what appears when you start aimlessly looking stuff up.

Posted in traditions, weather | 2 Comments »

Blog of a Death Foretold

Posted by Andy Hockley on 18 February, 2007

So, yesterday we went to Gyergyószárhegy, which is a village about an hour north of here to witness the funeral of the Farsang. [Szárhegy, as it is known, is one of those villages that really need you to be careful with your accents – write it as Szarhegy and it becomes “Shit Mountain”]. As you will be aware if you have been reading for a while, Farsang is the Jan 6th – Lent period in which much merriment is to be had (normally because it is too cold to do much but get drunk and have lots of sex as far as I can surmise). While some countries celebrate carnaval by having a four day bacchanalia, others have a single day of general mayhem, and still others (the UK) celebrate in a typically reserved way by making pancakes, here in the villages of Transylvania the period goes on for 6 weeks or more (depending on when Easter is).

But all good things must come to an end, and so it is that farsang (or actually some kind of athropomorphised farsang dummy) is laid to rest in a funeral ceremony on the weekend before Lent kicks off (ie this one). Villagers from all over the county convene on one spot – which changes annually- to perform their mock funeral ceremony, drink palinka (I assume – it certainly seemed like a well lubricated event) and consume large quantities of töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage). It was all very enjoyable and I thought I would share with you some pictures (all of which can be blown up to a more viewable size by simply clicking on them).
~~~
Dancing round the funeral pyre – in the background you can see the castle for which Szárhegy is famous.

The Szentdomokos funeral procession

On-stage funeral. The big bale of straw you can see is actually a bloke dressed as a bale of straw. It was dancing and stuff.

The body of the Farsang is brought to face it’s final rites. Sadly you can’t see from this picture the fact that it had a carrot and two onions attached to it in a particularly suggestive place.

This is a bull apparently. To me it looked more like a beehive with a pot on its head, but I was assured that it was a bull.

A man is beaten to death for wearing a sheep’s skull on top of his head. And rightly so.

The farsang is dead. Until next year, when he will rise, phoenix-like from the ashes.

Posted in traditions, transylvania | 2 Comments »

Blog of a Death Foretold

Posted by Andy Hockley on 18 February, 2007

So, yesterday we went to Gyergyószárhegy, which is a village about an hour north of here to witness the funeral of the Farsang. [Szárhegy, as it is known, is one of those villages that really need you to be careful with your accents – write it as Szarhegy and it becomes “Shit Mountain”]. As you will be aware if you have been reading for a while, Farsang is the Jan 6th – Lent period in which much merriment is to be had (normally because it is too cold to do much but get drunk and have lots of sex as far as I can surmise). While some countries celebrate carnaval by having a four day bacchanalia, others have a single day of general mayhem, and still others (the UK) celebrate in a typically reserved way by making pancakes, here in the villages of Transylvania the period goes on for 6 weeks or more (depending on when Easter is).

But all good things must come to an end, and so it is that farsang (or actually some kind of athropomorphised farsang dummy) is laid to rest in a funeral ceremony on the weekend before Lent kicks off (ie this one). Villagers from all over the county convene on one spot – which changes annually- to perform their mock funeral ceremony, drink palinka (I assume – it certainly seemed like a well lubricated event) and consume large quantities of töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage). It was all very enjoyable and I thought I would share with you some pictures (all of which can be blown up to a more viewable size by simply clicking on them).
~~~
Dancing round the funeral pyre – in the background you can see the castle for which Szárhegy is famous.

The Szentdomokos funeral procession

On-stage funeral. The big bale of straw you can see is actually a bloke dressed as a bale of straw. It was dancing and stuff.

The body of the Farsang is brought to face it’s final rites. Sadly you can’t see from this picture the fact that it had a carrot and two onions attached to it in a particularly suggestive place.

This is a bull apparently. To me it looked more like a beehive with a pot on its head, but I was assured that it was a bull.

A man is beaten to death for wearing a sheep’s skull on top of his head. And rightly so.

The farsang is dead. Until next year, when he will rise, phoenix-like from the ashes.

Posted in traditions, transylvania | 2 Comments »

Farsangi bál

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 January, 2007

So, how was the party, is the question I’m sure you’re all asking.

It was good, but like no party I’d been to before. Or rather, it had elements of many other different parties but in a combination previously unknown.

Firstly we had to bring along our own food and drink – it was actually possible to order a fixed menu prior to the event, but since the fixed menu was cold meats and cheese as a starter, with a main course of töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage – stuffed with pork), we didn’t bother going down that route. Most people it seems brought their own food – and plates, glasses, knives, forks, corkscrews, etc. Having dropped off our baskets of food and utensils we all trooped down to the lecture theatre (the party took place in the canteen of the Sapientia University) to watch a play performed by the teachers at the school, which was on a traditional farsang theme, that of marriage. This extended pre-lenten period appears to have been traditionally the time when people from villages were married off – possibly lent was a time in which it wasn’t wise to get married as you couldn’t have much of a party, or maybe (who knows) some serious catholic villages even swore off sex during the 40 days. That would, of course, be inconvenient because lent aways falls in Spring, when people in those far off days before widespread pre-marital rumpy-pumpy were desperate to, ahem, “get married”. So anyway, farsang was a period in which one partied, dressed in costume (no idea why, but this seems somewhat universal) and got hitched.

The play was performed with gusto and (I suspect) a touch of inebriation. I didn’t know what the words were, but could get the gist It wasn’t Beckett, is what I’m saying here. At the conclusion we all trooped back upstairs to the canteen and joined our tables. Each table was devoted to a different class at the school, so you were sitting with the parents of your child’s classmates. In many ways the whole affair from that point onwards was like a very peculiar wedding reception. There was the usual wedding-type band, playing cover versions of classics from the 60s 70s and 80s. (At least I’m assured they were classics, being as how they were all Hungarian, I’ll have to take people’s word for that). There was the universal wedding behaviour of sitting round the tables, talking, eating, getting plastered, and occasionally getting up and dancing. What set it apart from the average wedding was two things – firstly the fact that all the guests were between 30 and 45; and secondly the fact that the people that you had in common, who had brought you and your tablemates together (the role filled by the bride and groom at a wedding) were not actually present and were all at home tucked up in bed being taken care of by babysitters. Then, rather than the best man’s speech, we had an interminable raffle – parents had been asked to wrap things they didn’t want and submit them as raffle prizes, and the table was very full of such gifts. The process of repeatedly drawing out a winning ticket, announcing the number, waiting for the winner to show up and choose their present, accompanied by boozy cheering from their table, took ages. At one point I was concerned that they’d actually have more prizes than tickets sold and would have to put all the winners back in the same hat and start drawing them again.

Our table, being a table of parents of kids in the first grade, was a little bit subdued, as it was our first opportunity to get rat-arsed together and we had to size everyone up. As you looked around the room, you could see the higher up the school was the class, the rowdier was the table. Some people, of course, had to flit to more than one table having more than one child in the school. In such cases they tended towards their oldest child’s group, and left us newbies to fend for ourselves. Just as we were leaving, I came across a couple who had suddenly appeared at our table from some third grade table somewhere. They seemed quite put out that we were going so early (it was 2.30), and the husband insisted that I have a glass of wine with him – quite possibly because he was Romanian and wanted to chat to someone else at the party who’d no idea of what this bloody music was.

I have no idea what time it finished, but we certainly seemed to be the first ones to go. People do like to party until dawn here. The very concept that we were going before 5am seemed to be quite offensive, but having had the Szilveszter experience of having the 8am alarm-clock baby on a couple of minutes sleep, we weren’t about to do it again. We’ve probably been marked down as party-poopers though, and will be treated with appropriate disdainfulness at the school gates on Monday.

Posted in traditions | 3 Comments »

Farsangi bál

Posted by Andy Hockley on 28 January, 2007

So, how was the party, is the question I’m sure you’re all asking.

It was good, but like no party I’d been to before. Or rather, it had elements of many other different parties but in a combination previously unknown.

Firstly we had to bring along our own food and drink – it was actually possible to order a fixed menu prior to the event, but since the fixed menu was cold meats and cheese as a starter, with a main course of töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage – stuffed with pork), we didn’t bother going down that route. Most people it seems brought their own food – and plates, glasses, knives, forks, corkscrews, etc. Having dropped off our baskets of food and utensils we all trooped down to the lecture theatre (the party took place in the canteen of the Sapientia University) to watch a play performed by the teachers at the school, which was on a traditional farsang theme, that of marriage. This extended pre-lenten period appears to have been traditionally the time when people from villages were married off – possibly lent was a time in which it wasn’t wise to get married as you couldn’t have much of a party, or maybe (who knows) some serious catholic villages even swore off sex during the 40 days. That would, of course, be inconvenient because lent aways falls in Spring, when people in those far off days before widespread pre-marital rumpy-pumpy were desperate to, ahem, “get married”. So anyway, farsang was a period in which one partied, dressed in costume (no idea why, but this seems somewhat universal) and got hitched.

The play was performed with gusto and (I suspect) a touch of inebriation. I didn’t know what the words were, but could get the gist It wasn’t Beckett, is what I’m saying here. At the conclusion we all trooped back upstairs to the canteen and joined our tables. Each table was devoted to a different class at the school, so you were sitting with the parents of your child’s classmates. In many ways the whole affair from that point onwards was like a very peculiar wedding reception. There was the usual wedding-type band, playing cover versions of classics from the 60s 70s and 80s. (At least I’m assured they were classics, being as how they were all Hungarian, I’ll have to take people’s word for that). There was the universal wedding behaviour of sitting round the tables, talking, eating, getting plastered, and occasionally getting up and dancing. What set it apart from the average wedding was two things – firstly the fact that all the guests were between 30 and 45; and secondly the fact that the people that you had in common, who had brought you and your tablemates together (the role filled by the bride and groom at a wedding) were not actually present and were all at home tucked up in bed being taken care of by babysitters. Then, rather than the best man’s speech, we had an interminable raffle – parents had been asked to wrap things they didn’t want and submit them as raffle prizes, and the table was very full of such gifts. The process of repeatedly drawing out a winning ticket, announcing the number, waiting for the winner to show up and choose their present, accompanied by boozy cheering from their table, took ages. At one point I was concerned that they’d actually have more prizes than tickets sold and would have to put all the winners back in the same hat and start drawing them again.

Our table, being a table of parents of kids in the first grade, was a little bit subdued, as it was our first opportunity to get rat-arsed together and we had to size everyone up. As you looked around the room, you could see the higher up the school was the class, the rowdier was the table. Some people, of course, had to flit to more than one table having more than one child in the school. In such cases they tended towards their oldest child’s group, and left us newbies to fend for ourselves. Just as we were leaving, I came across a couple who had suddenly appeared at our table from some third grade table somewhere. They seemed quite put out that we were going so early (it was 2.30), and the husband insisted that I have a glass of wine with him – quite possibly because he was Romanian and wanted to chat to someone else at the party who’d no idea of what this bloody music was.

I have no idea what time it finished, but we certainly seemed to be the first ones to go. People do like to party until dawn here. The very concept that we were going before 5am seemed to be quite offensive, but having had the Szilveszter experience of having the 8am alarm-clock baby on a couple of minutes sleep, we weren’t about to do it again. We’ve probably been marked down as party-poopers though, and will be treated with appropriate disdainfulness at the school gates on Monday.

Posted in traditions | 3 Comments »