Easter in Gagauzia

Author: Anna Celac

“Quicklime, quicklime …!” — about once a month, residents of Gagauz villages hear these words from loudspeakers, which are used by the quicklime sellers for their advertising, driving through the streets in large trucks.  For those who want to buy quicklime it is enough just to go outside and the truck will stop, but in the autumn and winter there are almost no buyers. Trucks travel frantically through the empty streets in the hope of finding their rare buyer.

“Quicklime, quicklime …!”  — and the sellers are again in business, ploughing with their heavy trucks through the thawing March snow, but this time their efforts are not in vain and they are already in anticipation of good earnings. One of the housewives appears out of a yard and stops the car. And here are some more women in a hurry to renew their quicklime reserves. Such scenes are for me a symbol of the approaching Easter, which means that it is time to whiten all the trees around, because this pure white colour for the Gagauz people is a sign of the approaching bright holiday — the day when Christ was resurrected.

Whitewashing of trees, curbs and even utility poles is one of the main rituals of preparing for Easter in Gagauzia. Many women prefer to do it a week before the holiday, as it takes a lot of time, and there is so much to be done! However, despite the lack of time, for every woman respecting herself and the tradition, it is very important to have time to whiten the trees, because that was what her grandmothers and mother taught her. Just as she now teaches her daughter, whom she tells that the white colour is a symbol of the renewal of nature, the blessing of God and purity.

For the Gagauz people, from time immemorial, the purity of soul and body was an important guarantee of mental balance and resistance to sin. That is why many Gagauz, like other peoples of the Orthodox world, maintain a pre-Easter Lent. For more than 40 days (the length of time Jesus fasted in the desert) those fasting completely restrain from eating animal products. This is not an easy process, but it helps them to be more restrained in wider life, to resist temptation, to spend more time in prayer. By the end of the Lent, they feel purified, peaceful and ready for the main Orthodox holiday.

One of the most revered days of Lent is Great (Clean) Thursday Ak perşembä. Every year, on Clean Thursday, according to popular belief, «the souls of deceased relatives return to their homes and remain there until the eve of Ascension.» The graves are also cleaned and taken care of on this day.

In the seventh week of Lent (last week before Easter), which was popularly called Great Week, the Gospels are read in church (Büük Deniyä). After the last service, there is a custom to carry home a lit candle, the fire of which was considered consecrated and called “okunmuş ateş” (consecrated fire). This custom is respected in some Gagauz villages: Cioc Maidan, Baurchi, Gaidar. This candle is kept behind the icon and lit in a strong thunderstorm. During Great Week, it is forbidden to wash, sew, engage in household chores and work in the field.

Preparation of the Easter table is the main activity during the pre-Easter days for Gagauz women. As in other countries, dyeing of eggs and baking Easter bread occupy the main place in the endless series of preparations, because at Easter there are many guests who should appreciate the many hours of effort in the kitchen.

And here is that very day when Gagauz people dress up in clean and new clothes, their houses shine with cleanliness, and their tables are full of delicious dishes that the housewives cooked for several days.

Traditionally on this day after attending church, the Gagauz, breaking off a piece of Easter bread and taking a few dyed eggs, give an offering to their neighbours, friends, relatives and the poor. After that, closer to noon, they sit down at the table with the whole family and guests to celebrate Easter and to be with those whom they have not seen for a long time. Indeed, for many Gagauz people, this is one of those holidays when their children and grandchildren come from other countries and cities, and this is what makes this holiday so special and long-awaited.

Christ is Risen!

Photos by Anna Celac and Lina Cipciu

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