Customs related to death are still actual - beliefs and
rituals of ancient origins.
The Cult of the Dead" or "The Great Passing" is
part of the Passing rituals of Maramures and other folkloric
areas. In the traditional belief, this "passing" has
three phases: the break up with the living ones, the preparations
for the transition to the other world and the integration into
the world of the dead, the re-establishment of the social balance
modified by the leave of the dead one.
It is an interesting thing that these customs begin from the
very moment the approach of the "hour" is being noticed.
Relatives and friends, from whom he asks for forgiveness on
the account of all the bad things done in the lifetime, are
visiting the ailing; they recall memories and pleasant moments
spent together, all these contributing to the diminishing of
the separation from the dear ones. Before the fatal moment,
the priest is sent for, so that the dying may confess his sins
and receive the Eucharist.
The minute ritual is respected in every detail, for the fear
of the soul's unrest. For this, the candle will burn on the
whole extent of the watch in order to illuminate the soul's
way to the heavens (the "soul's candle"), the prayer
for the forgiveness of his sins, the objects placed in his
hand: the money, the stick, the knot-shaped bread are just
a couple of things of the ritual taken as a whole.
The clothing with his best suit, the arranging of his hair
and beard, these are all part of the preparations list preceding
the announcement of the person's death to the village. The
women start mourning loudly, the news spreads all over the
village and, at the moment the fact is learned about, every
villager says: "May the Lord forgives him". As a
sign of grief, the men take off their usual hats and do not
shave, while the women wear a black kerchief on their head
and undo their hair. In a calmer room, the council of the dead
person's relatives decides the way the funeral will go on and
what is needed, while in the main chamber someone will stay
all the time to watch over the body and keep the candle lit
continuously for three days and two or three nights. In the
evening a glass of water is put next to the person's head (with
a mark at the water level), in order to check in the morning
whether he has drunk or not out of it. The women in house keen
for him in the morning, when the bells are tolled, at midday
and in the evening for three days. In contradiction to the
mourning atmosphere, by evening the vigil starts - teenagers
and men come uncalled to the house in order to keep company
to the dead, around the coffin. The food and drinks that follow
the burial are prepared: the chief-cook and her helps set (according
to the number of the attendance - usually the whole village)
the necessary amounts and types of aliments that are to be
brought by relatives and friends.
The host takes care of the immediate necessary things: the
drinks, the charity - the knot-shaped bread that are to be
given to the priest, the psalm reader, the bell toll, and also
it is the moment of setting the persons who will carry the
body, who will hold the candles, the icon and the cross (usually,
these persons are 3rd grade relatives).
A night before the burial, the "requiem" is held
- the priest officiates special prayers attended only by some
people (relatives, friends and neighbors).
Before the procession, the psalm reader draws a cross with
a lit candle on the walls (a small symbolic sign), and the
priest reads from the Evangelic, while all the relatives are
on their knees around the coffin. The priest "takes the
forgiveness", which means that impersonating the dead,
ass for forgiveness from everyone he knew, for the separation
to be made in peace. The procession that accompanies the body
to the grave gathers the whole village, which assists the "untie
of all sins", and then, once the coffin is lowered into
the grave, the priest seals is, drawing the sign of the cross
across it with a hoe.
The charity that follows, usually in the yard of his house
is made up of wheat bread, noodles with milk, stuffed cabbage
with meat and rice (called "sarmale"), potatoes with
fried meat, donuts, etc. In case it happens to be the Lent
or the Advent, all the food will be made properly (bean soup, "sarmale" with
mushrooms). Before everyone starts eating, the priest and the
attendance say a prayer for the dead and bless the meal. In
case there should be persons missing, a second and even a third
charity is organized, in order to satisfy the whole community.
The same procedure is repeated at certain intervals: at three
days, nine days, six weeks, and one year from the event. These
are usually held after the Sunday service, directly on the
grave's side - the purpose is not to loose the contact with
the missing person.
After the funeral and the charity meal, the teenagers (boys
and girls) play and party for the memory of the deceased, with
the participation of musicians.
On a better look over the ceremony a certain mixture of Pre-Christian
(the watch - separation ritual from the living ones) and Christian
ones is to be noticed, proving the antiquity of these customs
and, of course, the power of the tradition preserved and kept
In addition to the focus on ceremonies, the faith
of Romanians encompasses a belief that for each man, there
exists a star
and a tree. The falling of the star marks the death of a person.
The fir, the tree of life, is placed at the head on the grave
of a deceased person. The fir is brought from the forest by
a group of young men. They are met at the entrance of the village
by a group of women. The women sing a song about the link of
the man with the tree of life. The song talks about the grief
of the fir as it becomes obliged to dry and to rot near its
brother, the deceased person.
Another funeral custom is the dawn song, or the Great Song.
It is sung by a group of appointed old women at the dawn of
the two days between a death and a funeral.
This song advises the dead person and describes the journey
that he or she will make into the land of the dead ancestors.
It is a song of a poetic metaphor of the myth of the great
Also expressed is a wish for the sun to rise later in the
day, so that the family of the deceased has more time to prepare
for the ceremonies. The preparation of the funeral consists
of greeting the relatives, making the funeral objects, such
as the coffin, the vial that will cover the body, the funeral
candle and the carriage with bulls, as well as the preparation
of the food to be served to relatives and friends during the
meal after the funeral. During all of the funeral proceedings,
there is a wake organized for the deceased. A body is never
left alone, and those present at the wake tell stories about
the deceased. A group of old women mourn the body as well.
The ceremonies connected with death and burial seem to be
the best -preserved of Romanian folk customs. In the north
of Moldavia and of Transylvania, death is announced to the
village by the sound of alphorns. Two - seldom one - sometimes
four and even six alphorn players accompany the funeral procession
and blow signals called: About the dead, Following the dead,
For the dead, The accompanying of the dead or "TheHora
of the dead", especially for young people and sometimes
for shepherds only.
The alphorn is blown in the dead man's yard, at early dawn,
at noon, in the evening and sometimes at night during the wake;
likewise on the way to the churchyard, over the grave, after
the coffin has been covered with earth. An extensive zone in
the west of the country, comprising the north of Oltenia, The
Banat and the neighboring Hunedoara knows a series of ceremonial
funeral songs, which are sung by experienced women appointed
to the task, who must not be close relations of the dead person.
The songs are sung at certain moments of the burial, with a
strict observance of the unwritten laws of tradition. Foremost
among these songs is the " Song of the Dawn" which
announces the death to the village at early dawn. Their faces
turned eastwards, sometimes with lighted candles in their hands,
the group of women implore the dawn to delay its coming until" the
sweet wanderer" will get everything and needs ready for
the long journey he undertakes:
From the land of yearning
To that without yearning
From the land of pity
To that without pity!
Another important ceremonial funeral song is "Cântecul
bradului, Al cetinii sau Al sulitii" ("The Song of
the Pine", "Of the pine needles" or "Of
the spear"). This is sung for those that died young and
unmarried, for the fir-tree brought from the wood and decorated
represents the wedding fir-tree. The poetical text contains
the lament of the fir-tree who complains that it was made to
believe it would be used in the building of a house, when in
fact it will be left to wither at the head of the grave. It
is also knows other songs such as "At the window", "Of
the way", "For the accompanying", "Of the
grave" and others. They comprise instructions for the
dead person, for the way he must take; he is advised to make
friends with the other who knows about the waters and the fords,
and with the wolf who knows the secret pathways of the forests.
In these songs "Samodiva" is mentioned who notes
down with red ink the living and with black ink the dead. They
tell about the quarrel of the cuckoo with Death, and so on.
The poems of these ancient "songs of the dead" are
often of rare beauty.
But the most important burial songs are the "bocete" known
all over the country. Sung by female relations and close friends
of dead, they are "a melodic overflow of sorrow" at
the dead person's bedside, in the yard, on the road, in the
church-yard during the burial and subsequently on certain dates
destined for the commemoration of the dead. The texts of the
dirges, often contain elements with a powerful social content,
which are echoes; character of folklore is obvious at every
step, both in the dirges for the orphan children and regret
at separation from "the love of the world" are but
a few of the topics of these moving songs.
A strict ritual function could be identified in focusing on
a wheat-dish, in Romanian called "coliva" (crushed
wheat-grains, boiled in water, sweetened with sugar or honey
and mingled with nuts) offered at funerals and at funeral repasts
After the body is buried and mourners return to the deceased's
home, it is the bereaved family's duty to provide a feast for
all who attended the funeral. Since the service typically lasts
four hours, appetites have peaked. No manner of bad weather
will discourage the crowd.
When a popular community figure dies, rumors sometimes circulate
that providing the funeral feast forced the dead person's family