Monday, April 9, 2012

Hungarian Easter in Dâmbău

This past week was more or less uneventful until Saturday.  On Saturday morning Josi and I took a bus to Bucuresti, then got on a train to go to Medias.  The bus took about 3.5 hours and the train was about 6 hours.  We arrived in Medias around 9:30pm, and my friend Laszlo picked Josi and me up from the train station.  He brought us to Dambau (pronounced like Dumbo), which is his, Timea's, and Judith's village.  He brought us to Timea and Judith's house, our home for the Easter holiday.

A view from the train, somewhere between Brasov and Sighisoara.

Another view from the train, also between Brasov and Sighisoara.
We were welcomed in by Timea, Judith, and their parents.  Josi was meeting everyone for the first time, and it was my first time to meet their parents, who are very warm people and made us feel very welcome.

Sunday morning was Easter Sunday.  Since their family (and most Hungarians in the village) are Unitarians, we went to their church for the Easter service.  It was rainy, so it was a bit wet and cold.  This must have deterred some people from coming, because Timea noted that there were a lot fewer people at the church this Easter.

Walking through the wooden gate into the churchyard

Waiting outside the church for our turn to go in.
As per the tradition, the married women and men entered into the church before the service, men through one entrance, women through another.  The unmarried young women (anyone who has been confirmed attended this Easter service) and the unmarried men waied outside their respective entrances, in order from youngest to oldest.  When the music began, the young women processed in first, from youngest to oldest.  After we were in our seats behind the older women, the young men processed in, also from youngest to oldest, and took their seats in the balcony above the older men.

The church is set up in a very different way than I am used to.  There are two sets of pews facing the center of the church, two sets of doors, and the minister sits in the center of the church along one wall, next to a raised podium, where he reads passages from the Bible and delivers the sermon.  In the middle of the central space, there is a large table.  Since this was Easter Sunday, they were having bread and wine to commemorate the Last Supper.  It was distributed by the minister and a minister-in-training in four rounds.  First, the married men went to the center of the church, standing in a ring from oldest to youngest around the table.  The bread and wine were distributed while a song was sung, and then a prayer was said.  They returned to their seats and the process was repeated with the young men: circle from oldest to youngest, bread and wine, prayer, sit back down.  The married women went third, and we young women went last.  After the service was over, the men and women left from their respective doors, with the married people leaving first, followed by the unmarried. 
The view from the women's side of the church, facing the men's side.

The pulpit and table in the center of the church.

After church we returned to Timea and Judith's house for the big Easter meal.  The traditional food  for Easter is a lamb, so that's what we had for the main dish, accompanied with soup, mashed potatoes, beets, and pickles, with many little cakes for dessert.  Mr. Miklos (their father) raises many animals...including our Easter lunch, who I did not meet prior to his demise.  

Just one of four varieties of cakes always sitting on trays this weekend.
The view of the hills from their backyard
After lunch we played with a nice Easter surprise--about a dozen chicks who had hatched only two days earlier.  Josi and I enjoyed playing with them and having a ridiculously cute photo shoot.  After seeing how enthralled we were with the chicks, everyone decided it was time to show us the other animals, even though it was still rainy and very muddy.  We were introduced to chickens, cows, calves, a pregnant sow, three dogs (including a puppy), goats, kids, sheep, and two lambs.  Josi and I took lots of pictures as we played with and petted the animals.  We both had lots of fun and found it to be very refreshing as a change from the city life.

Me and a lamb (not our lunch...)
Cuddling the kids
After a relaxing break including some computer and Skype time, we dyed eggs for Monday.  Timea and Judith showed us how they traditionally dye their eggs.  First we went outside to collect leaves with interesting shapes.  Then we cut up two pairs of pantyhose.  We positioned the leaves on hard-boiled eggs and tightly wrapped the pantyhose around the eggs, tying them shut with string.  The pantyhose secures the leaves so they don't shift.  We then put the eggs in standard egg dye.  After they'd been in the dye for about five minutes, they were removed.  The pantyhose was cut away, the leaves carefully removed, and the eggs rubbed with slanina (pig fat) to make them shiny.  We dyed lots of eggs, and when we ran out of pantyhose, we just dyed them solid colors.  We had red, green, and purple dye.
Lots of hard-boiled eggs, from their own chickens
Cutting up some pantyhose

Positioning the leaf on the egg

Wrap them tightly in the pantyhose so the leaves won't move
Dye them

Remove from dye

Cut off the pantyhose

It's best to lightly blow on the egg to dry the area around the leaf to prevent smudging

Under the leaf is left undyed

Rub with slanina

Some of the finished products

One of the chicks with most of our eggs

Some eggs, all ready for our visitors
The day after Easter has a special tradition, called Húsvéti Locsolás. Boys and young men go to the homes of the girls and young women. They bring perfume with them and spray all the girls and young women they visit or encounter that day. The younger boys (under 14) memorize poems, which they recite for their hosts. They then get to pick out the egg of their choice to keep. Older boys and young men just come with perfume and sit and talk with their hosts, possibly with some drinks and snacks. Aside from preparing eggs, the girls and young women just wait at home for their visitors, who come all day long. Both the boys and the girls dress up in nice clothes so they look their best. Symbolically, this tradition is about springtime. The girls are supposed to be flowers, and the boys are watering them with the perfume. The tradition used to be with water instead (occasionally dousing girls with a bucket of water), but now everyone sprays perfume.  

Young boys are usually accompanied by their fathers as they go around the village, but older boys and young men typically visit the houses of their female friends in groups. I asked Laszlo about what it was like when he did this as a young boy, and he told me that he would start around 9:30 in the morning (Timea and Judith were always his first stop, since they live only a few houses away) and would collect around 50 eggs over the course of the day. Some he would eat, others his mother gave out to other visitors after he'd drop off a full bag to grab an empty one, and others he'd use to to have egg fights with his brother, cracking their eggs together to see whose would break first.

Before the majority of our visitors came on Monday, the four of us took a walk into the forest next to the village. We had a wonderful view of the hills and some of the houses. Prior to our walk I'd gotten "watered" with perfume twice and we all got a spray from a Romanian villager as we walked to the forest.  

Looking down the road

Some of the beautiful hills

Some of the first flowers

Standing on the field used for sledding and skiing in the winter

Over the course of the day I was sprayed with perfume by about 30 different people. We received a few young boys who recited poems and collected their eggs, but not a large number, since Timea and Judith are older. Mostly the young boys who came were relatives. Most of our visitors were young men. Many of them were dressed in suits. Since they are older, they didn't recite a poem or take an egg, but they stayed for a while talking with us. Nearly all our guests were very nice, and I really enjoyed this tradition. Several people asked about Easter traditions in the US, so I talked about dyeing eggs, the Easter Bunny and Easter baskets, and Easter egg hunts. The idea of chocolate eggs was a particularly novel idea for some of them.

Laszlo's nephew came, sprayed us with perfume, recited his poem, and chose an egg
So far it has been a very nice trip. We will stay tomorrow and leave bright an early on Wednesday day to go to Bucuresti for a flight to Vienna. It has been a very refreshing change of pace. Nearly all the food we are eating is homemade from organic, homegrown or home-raised ingredients. We have had LOTS of little homemade cakes, zacusca (a vegetable spread that is far more delicious than its description), salata de vinete (eggplant spread), fresh eggs from their chickens, soup with homemade noodles, homemade ketchup, and local or home-grown meat. It is all delicious, and I may have made a list of demands for recipes I'd love to have... Tomorrow we will likely take a walk to some nearby vineyards. (Oh, I also had homemade wine, made from grapes grown by the Miklos family!) Josi and I are both loving our time in this village (which has about 1,100 people), but we are also looking forward to our trip to Vienna.


  1. I wanted to also add that your stories and photos have been extremely interesting and well done. I am a former Fulbrighter from Iasi (Cuza Univ) and my service covered the 1987-88 academic year during which I taught American Language and Literature. I met my wife in Iasi, but she is from Constanta, so I came to know Constanta very well. Thus it is that I was thrilled to see another young American discovering Constanta and its delights.

    My wife and I and our two boys will be visiting Constanta on the 29th of June. Will you be there? If so, we'd like to take you to a restaurant and meet our family. If you are not going to be there, please continue to converse with me via my email or facebook page (David L. Hadaller). My email is

    I am a Dean of Academic Affairs at Bronx Community College in New York.

    Again, terrific work on this web page!!