Epiphany brings out ancestral traditions in Romanian villages

Orthodox, Catholics and Greek Catholics alike celebrate, on Thursday, the feast of Epiphany, which marks the last of the winter holidays, associated with the cleaning, particularly with blessing the waters.
The feast has, however, different significances in Orthodox and Catholic tradition. While the Orthodox Church celebrates Christ’s baptism in the river Jordan, performed by Saint John the Baptist, in the Roman Catholic Church, the feast of Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus. Nonetheless, both Churches celebrate, on January 6, the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah.
For the Orthodox, the feast is meant to evoke Christ’s baptism in Jordan at age 30, before starting to preach. On Epiphany, priests perform the service of blessing the waters, “The Great Holy Water”, which has the symbolic meaning of a cosmic regeneration (the earth receives the seeds of the new creation, transfigured through the blessing of waters). According to folk belief, on Epiphany the skies open and the guardian angel tells young men and maiden of a marriageable age where to seek the one they are meant to marry. Each religious feast came to be associated, throughout the centuries, with folk beliefs and superstitions, and many symbols and traditions surround the feast of Epiphany. Thus, on Epiphany, no one does the laundry, so as “not to taint the water”, and the elders say the blessed water brought home from church has miraculous powers and it will remain forever fresh. “It is said that whoever plunges in water on this day will be protected from all illnesses and that, when the priest casts the cross in water, the devils are chased away and run in the fields, but they cannot be seen by anyone, except the wolves. The elders say that, if the weather is fine on Epiphany Day, there’ll be an abundance of bread and fish this year,” ethnologist Maria Golban recounts. On the same day, in some regions, young wives are integrated in the community of married women by being sprinkled with water from a well or from a river. In Transylvania, on Saint John the Baptist’s day, there used to be a custom called “Watering the Johns” and the bearers of this name were led through the village, with great pump, to the river, where they were baptized.

There is also a folk belief that by Epiphany the term for proposing to young maidens expires and the time between Christmas Eve and Epiphany Eve is filled with love spells and premarital divination. Faithful maidens lay a few sprays of basil, blessed by the priest, under their pillow, to dream the one they are meant to marry. According to a superstition, a girl who falls on the ice on Epiphany is sure to marry in the course of that year. If trees are covered in hoar frost on Epiphany day, it is considered an omen of prosperity and good health, if a north wind blows, the year will be fruitful, and, if there are icicles at the eaves, there will be an early spring. On the same day, mothers who lost their babies or whose babies were stillborn, take holy water and go, accompanied by the priest, to pour it on the babies’ graves, then “baptize” them John and, if they perform this ritual three years in a row, the babies are considered baptized and are included in the host of Christians passed away.

The holy water brought home from church is considered to have healing qualities. It is preserved all year round in a small vessel, by the icon, and is not altered in time, even if the vessel remains uncovered.

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