Storytelling was a huge part of growing up in Romania. For hours we sat transfixed, listening to grandmothers frighten or amuse us with folk tales and stories with favorite characters.
Zana, a fairy who resides in the woods, was one such character and a big part of the Romanian folklore. The word comes from the Roman goddess Diana, the one with all the beauty, who gives it all away.
The most successful collector of such stories was novelist Ion Creanga, who in picturesque language wrote Harap Alb (The White Prince) or Fata babei şi fata moşului (The old woman’s girl and the old man’s girl).
Also, poet Vasile Alecsandri, who published the ballad Miorita (The Little Ewe). And Petre Ispirescu who in the 19th century published a number of short novels from popular mythology — stories centered around characters like Făt-Frumos (the Romanian Prince Charming), the princess Ileana Cosânzeana, the monster Zmeu, the dragon Balaur or fantastic superbeings like the good Zana.
Another name from Romanian mythology is Sanziana, attached not only to a fairy but a festival in the fairy’s honor. Many Romanians celebrate the Sanziene holiday on June 24. This is similar to other European Midsummer holidays and believed to be a pagan celebration of the summer solstice.
During the Sanziene festival, the maidens in the village dress in white and spend all day picking Galium verum (yellow-flowered perennial bedstraw). They dance in a circle and sing local songs. They create wreaths as crowns which they wear upon returning to the village at nightfall.
People are prevented from speaking to the girls during this ceremony, as it’s said the Sanziene spirits might otherwise be angered or distracted. In some regions, the girls keep the wreaths until the following year’s ceremony. This ensures fertility for their family’s land.
In addition, if they place the wreaths under their pillow at night, as the story goes, they’d have a premonition of the man they’re to marry (ursitul, the fated one).
Yes, Romanian folklore is rich with tales and rituals, most retaining only a symbolic attachment to the people, many turned into written stories.
As a child, it was easy to close my eyes and see the image of Zana, and the beautiful Sanziene dancing and singing to the folk music of long ago.
Well, dear friends, we’ve reached The End. Congratulations on completing a marathon of a challenge. It wasn’t easy, but here we are. Woo-hoo!
I had some trepidations about a month-long posting on Romania, a country not always easy to describe, especially when there’s emotional attachment to every word. But you — all of you — have made this journey an absolute pleasure through your comments and the exquisite posts that charmed, educated, and entertained me every time I visited your blogs. Thank You!
If you plan on participating in the Reflection Post, I’ll see you there. One last note: It’s been a crazy month, so if I haven’t followed you yet, I will do exactly that as soon as I can catch my breath. As we say in Romania: Noroc (Good luck) and Multumesc, prieteni (Thank you, friends). See you soon!