[PHOTO] Carnival customs in the Land of the Saxons

Urzelnlaufen: the Urselns’ run in Nagysink

(Photo credit: Szigeti Vajk István, www.szigetivajk.com)

The last few days of the carnival period are celebrated through merry rituals in quite a few parts of Transylvania. It is said, that many of these carnival customs, like the processions of masks and costumes, the chanting of witty and mocking rhymes, the jokes and pranks, the lighting of fires have their origins in belief-systems pre-dating Christianity.

Joy and happiness are usually emphasized excessively during carnival, these being actually celebrations of life over death, of spring over the passing winter. One of the representative events is called the burial of the carnival, a symbolic way of putting winter to its end.

The ceremony and its practices vary in the different regions of Transylvania. Saxons living in the former Királyföld (Königsboden, Saxon land, Pământul Crăiesc) also have their specific ways of celebrating; their word for the carnival period is Fastnacht. The carnival rituals of the Saxon communities of Transylvania are deeply influenced by the ways of functioning of their former guilds and of the different associations that had shaped the life of the whole community.

For instance there were the associations of the young, unmarried men, that of married women, that of the married men or that of the neighborhoods’; once a Saxon neighborhood comprised 10 to 60 households, and families belonging had helped out each other in various chores. Some Saxon settlements, like Nagysink (German: Gross-Schenk, Romanian: Cincu) – where our photos were taken –, or Szentágota (Agnetheln, Agnita), which were once famous for their artisanal products and were important market places, still practice forms of carnival which were largely popular in the 19th century, and even in the first half of the former century.

Author: Éva Zay