The Day of the 40 Holy Martyrs
Bucharest – The Romanian popular tradition and the Orthodox religion are celebrating today The Day of the 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebastia, one of the most beloved holidays nationwide. This holiday of a very old origin used to celebrate the beginning of the Agrarian Year, which marked the official conclusion of winter and the beginning of spring. As an agrarian holiday dedicated to earth, homemakers are preparing eight-shaped bagels symbolising the season cycles. These bagels known as “mucenici” are brought by women to Church in the morning to be hallowed by the priest.
The “mucenici” are then given to the faithful together with a candle lit for the souls of the deceased. There is the belief that on this day the souls of the dead are released on Earth to join their loved ones who are alive to enjoy this holiday together. This is also the day when, as tradition goes, people should drink 40 or 44 glasses of red wine, which will turn into blood during the year, making the drinker strong and healthy. Everybody is supposed to drink the wine, and those who don’t should at least have a taste of it or let themselves sprinkled with wine. Although the number of wineglasses that should be drunk corresponds to the 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebasteia, the custom goes back to ancient Bachian holidays celebrated on the day of the spring equinox.
On this particular day, in villages especially, the youth gather in groups and light big fires on hills with the purpose of driving the evil spirits away, since there is the belief that early spring is propitious for witch-crafters and for those invoking malefic forces.
It is around those fires that “mucenici” and many wine-full glasses are placed on tables, for the souls of the dead that come to the feast. At the same time, “all houses are purified with holy water, as are the animals in homesteads, since people would believe that evil spirits are driven away and they take refuge in the remote corners of the home and in animal stables.
by George Grigoriu
Source: Nine O’Clock Newspaper – http://www.nineoclock.ro
Photo from http://www.orthodoxphotos.com