For most of the people that I know, 1st of May is a special day. It’s all about enjoying a day off, dancing into the spring, recharging with some vitamin D, being barefoot, going out for a barbecue and having a drink or two… or ten.
However, this years 1st of May also has a religious meaning. If Christian Catholics and Protestants had their Easter feast in March, Christian Orthodox have it now. Growing up in Transylvania, I was used to celebrating Easter two times a year and thus combining two Easter traditions. It was the best a child could get from a public holiday. Maybe some will say “ahh, the same thing all over again”. There are a couple of things that are different though, traditions that bring the Orthodox Easter to another celebration level. Starting with the great fasting period, the longest and challenging of them all, continuing with preparing traditional lamb dishes such as the lamb tribe (while fasting, of course), going to the mess at midnight, surrounding the church a dozen of times to finally receive the “divine light from Jerusalem”, bumping eggs – and hoping that yours won’t get cracked – saying “Christ is risen” and responding with “He is truly risen”, to finally celebrate the end of the fasting period whilst underestimating the amount of food that your stomach is able to hold.
While all these traditions are rather conventional, there are two that stand out. The first one will literally give you a fresh kick. Some Eastern European and Balkan countries celebrate the “Wet Monday”. For some girls and women living in the countryside, the day will start with an unplanned shower. Men usually use buckets full of cold water to douse their beloved ones. Ladies living in cities are fortunate, they only have to put on with some bad smelling perfumes or water sprinkles. The day usually ends with a terrible mix of cheap scents, headaches and an arduous wish for a (hot) shower. As a child, I was always looking forward to the “Wet Monday”. Friends and neighbors came along wishing me to grow beautiful, like a flower. I believe I liked the idea of becoming fresh and wonderful like a flower. I don’t have another expIanation for voluntary giving in to that . However, during my teens, I completely changed my way of understanding this tradition. I became disinterested, hide myself in my room, imploring my mother to tell our guests that I wasn’t at home. Needles to say that that was the end of the “Wet Monday” tradition for me.
The second tradition has been elevated into an art form and is all about dyeing eggs. While some Easter eggs are kept simple, in red, yellow, green or blue, others are painstakingly dyed and painted with gorgeous ornaments. Inherited from ancestors, grandmothers or grandfathers, the egg dyeing is inspired by architectural details, traditional costumes or cultural symbols and thus gets a whole other dimension. While Westerners only boil and dye the eggs, Easterners prepare them by emptying, washing and waxing them. Afterwards, the egg painter gets his creativity on: layer by layer, color by color, model by model. It takes a lot of patience, finesse and creativity. Combined, they put the egg painter into a sort of meditative process that goes on for a few hours, which results with an astonishing output.
There is a compelling symbolism to these particular traditions, that make some countries and cultures rise – maybe more through their past and values then through their present.