Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Romanian funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Ethiopian funeral traditions and Kiribati funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Romanians have several superstitions that mean a death may be near, including:
- A mirror or furniture breaking.
- Animals making unusual sounds.
- A dog howling with its head down and digging outside a sick person’s home.
- A sick person constantly staring at their nails or the wall.
- An owl hooting since they see owls as death symbols.
When someone is near death, a stranger should hold a candle while music plays. It must be a stranger or else the person’s death is slow and painful. If someone dies, animals should be shooed away so the deceased’s spirit doesn’t enter an animal’s body.
Preparation of the Body
After someone passes away, the doors should be left open for death to escape. Family members bathe the body and leave some water at the feet so the spirit can bathe as well. They also place candles and coins in the deceased’s hands for their afterlife journey. The deceased is the “pure and white traveler” since they have a 40-day journey to judgment day for the afterlife.
Water pails should be covered so the deceased’s spirit doesn’t drown and can safely leave. They also place strands of the deceased’s hair on the door for good luck along with a black handkerchief. The community also may ring bells to announce the death.
The wake usually lasts for two nights while family and friends watch over and protect the deceased. The night wakes are parties to keep guests awake and to celebrate with the deceased one last time. Professional performers lead prayers to pay respect to the deceased and prevent any hauntings by the spirit.
Before the funeral, relatives make some traditional Romanian funeral foods, including a sweet bread called kolach. They use the bread to make pomul, a decorated fruit tree branch that represents the tree of life. It also symbolizes the passage from the current world to the next. They also make a dish with wheat grains to represent the sins of the dead. It’s a traditional Orthodox Christian dish called coliva, and it’s popular since 81% of Romanians are Orthodox Christians.
Romanian Funeral Service
A Romanian funeral service is more of a celebration with masks, costumes, games, singing, dancing, and stories. The body must enter the church first and it should be in the middle of the church. Funeral guests usually receive candles and handkerchiefs to keep as funeral gifts.
Funeral guests also bring flower crowns to place around the deceased’s casket for decorations. Then after the service, family members carry the flower crowns in the procession to the burial location.
Before the burial begins, family members place the flower crowns on the casket. They also set up a table with wine and traditional Romanian food.
The deceased’s burial clothing depends on their age. The elderly usually choose their clothing ahead of time while young unmarried people wear wedding clothes. Romanians believe babies turn into angels, so they cut their shirts so they can spread their wings to fly.
Merry Cemetery is filled with more than 1,000 blue wooden crosses in Sapanta, Romania. These unique gravestones share the deceased’s story through detailed bright and colorful pictures. Stan Ion Patras is the original artist of these gravestones, but after he passed away, his apprentice Dumitru Pop Tincu took over.
The pictures often show how the deceased died and the colors have special meanings. Green means life, yellow means fertility, red means passion, and black means death. They also have dark and humorous poems written on them and the crosses stand at about five feet high.