St. George’s Day

The Romanians celebrate the holiday of St. George on 23nd April. For the Romanian nation St. George plays a particularly important role, because in his fight with the dragon, as he is depicted in the icon, all the strivings of the mankind are shown, which is in a constant fight for existance and freedom. In the iconography St. George is crowned with a halo of light and this imaginary character, highlighting the isomorphness of the world, is a symbol of the transcedental. In the studies of Gilbert Durand, the idea of the wing as a symbol of superiority is viewed as a symbol of surmounting the human nature.

Customs, traditions and beliefs

According to experts, the Christian celebration of St. George is a deposition, with the course of time, on the pre-Christian tradition related to the Thracian Rider. According to the tradition, St. George and St. Dimitar, have received the keys of time. “Here I am giving you the keys of time and by my order you should sooner or later open the times for the mankind, after we see the behavior of the human beings!” Celebrated in the spring, the holiday of St. George takes up a large part of the folklore beliefs related to the change of the season. The Romanian pre-Christians traditions, harmoniously intertwined in the Christian – the Orthodox traditions, have gathered in these days customs and rituals, which roots are lost in the darkness of time. They have preserved, but already with a Christian meaning, the live fire, the rituals for fertility of animals, plants and trees. This is the day when the windows are opened for the world of darkness, of ghosts, wood-nymphs, ghouls and witches. At the night before St. Georgе’s Day the gold coins play, and the animals start to talk.  The meanings of the prototype restrict the imagination through elements of mixture with the human.

At the dawn of St. George’s Day, people put armindens (beech sprigs with leaves) on the gate pillars, as it is believed that the heaven opens simultaneously with the marked gates to accept the riches of the year. Opening the heavenly gates together with the households’ gates marks the symbolism of the ascention to the heaven. The leader is St. George who rides a winged horse, as he kills a seven-headed dragon with a fiery arrow.

The beech sprigs are put in the evening on 23nd April (St. George’s Day) and are left at certain palces for a month, and in the mountain regions – throughout the whole year. At some places a young beech tree, 4-6 meters high, is cut down, so that the house can be protected from lightnings.

On St. George’s Day, celebrating spring, people leave at their houses’ threshold a furrow of grass, green twigs or cow-parsley to protect the place from witches and ghosts, so that they don’t take the cows’ milk or the wheat’s grain. It is believed that those who sleep on St. Geoge’s Day take the sleep of the lambs and are going to be sleepy and apathetic througout the year. This is the only day of the year, on which the luck and misfortune submit to the people. For example, those who lie on their stomachs on the shore of running water and notice fish in the water are going to be lucky throughout the whole year. Those who wash their face with dew gathered from the flowers on this day are going to be healthy throughout the whole summer, and those who wash themselves in the river’s water are not going to be afraid throughout the whole year. Those who run before sunrise on St. George’s Day are going to be tenacious throughout the whole year and are not going to know what it is to be tired. The collected rubbish in the house is put at the root of the trees so that they can be fruitful. On St. George’s Day the trees are engrafted and the herds are selected. If this day happens to be a fasting day – Wednesday or Friday, then the sheep’s and cows’ milk is going to be poor. In the towns are preserved almost 200-year-old customs related to St. Geroge’s Day celebration. This date is considered as renewing the year „with the spring as a beginning”. On this day the house rental agreements are renewed, the properties are granted on lease, and the landlords collect the annual rent.

The night of St. George’s holiday is also the time when the unmarried girls look at buckets or coppers with water in order to see their fate. If on the water surface they can see the face of a lad, then he is going to be their fiance. In the holiday morning the girls plant garlic which they are going to use in the following year by spreading it on themselves, as they believe that they are going to receive all kinds of gifts in this way: from beauty to wit and from luck to richness.

In order to be pretty, the girls sow basil with their lips, as it is said „they attract each other as the basil – love”.  In order to be tireless throughout the whole year, the lads and the lasses touch nettle. In accordance with the rich Romanian religious rites, it is good for the people to weigh themselves on St. George’s Day in order to be healthy throughout the whole year and to be beautiful. At dawn the lasses sow basil with their lips and they water it with their mouth every morning, before the sunrise. They would gird this basil in their girdle in order to attract the lads’ attention, as they believed that the one who touched the basil would fall in love immediately. All this is an expression of the efforts for ascending to the initial divine light. The fiery arrow is also a part of the solar symbolism armoury, and the fire-breathing dragon is the same symbol, but already negative. In this way a certain mythological tradition is conveyed, because St. George can be compared to Apollo who pierces the snake Python with an arrow.

St. George is a spiritual patron of the army, of those who risk their life at the battlefields defending their country.

Sources: Haralambie Bodescu, Universul imaginar-simbolic al folclorului din zona Amaradiei de Sus; Alexandru Doru Șerban, Valentina Șerban, Credințe, datini și obiceiuri în Gorj, Editura Rhabon, Tg-Jiu, 2004; Ana Daria Ionescu-Haidău, Sânzienile;