Funeral Traditions in Transylvania

by K-Dean

When a death occurs, young men in Transylvania go out into the forest to cut down a fir tree, which they believe is the tree of life. The tree is placed at the head of the grave.

In Transylvania the Romanians believe that for each man, there exists a star and a tree. The falling star marks the death of a person and 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 who sing about the link of the man and the tree of life. The song talks about the grief of the fir as it becomes obliged to dry out and decompose near its brother, the deceased person.

Another funeral custom is the dawn song which is sung by a group of appointed old women at the dawn of the two days between a death and a funeral. The song describes the journey that the deceased will take into the land of the dead ancestors.

The preparation of the funeral consists of greeting the relatives, making the funeral objects, such as the coffin, 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 the funeral proceedings, a wake is organized for the deceased. The body can never be left alone and those present at the wake tell stories about the deceased.

In the north of Moldavia and of Transylvania, death is announced to the village by the sound of alphorns. Sometimes up to 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 The Hora of the dead.

The alphorn is blown in the deceased’s yard, at early dawn, at noon, in the evening and sometimes at night during the wake. It is played on the way to the churchyard, over the grave, and after the coffin has been covered with earth.

In the west end of the country, such as Oltenia, The Banat and the neighboring Hunedoara, have their own series of ceremonial funeral songs. They are sang by experienced women who must not be close to the deceased. The Song of the Dawn announces the death to the village at early dawn.

Another important ceremonial funeral song is The Song of the Pine, Of the Pine Needles or Of the Spear. This is sung for those who died young and unmarried, for the fir-tree brought from the woods and decorated represents the wedding fir-tree.

The most important burial songs are the “bocete” known all over the country. Sung by female relatives 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.

In Romania, a wheat dish called “coliva” is served at funerals which is made of crushed wheat-grains boiled in water, sweetened with sugar or honey and mingled with nuts. After the body is buried and mourners return to the deceased’s home, it is the family’s duty to provide a feast for everyone who attended the funeral.

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