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Farsang, a traditional ‘Carnival’ to say goodbye to winter and usher in Spring. As usual, it was celebrated in Harghita County, Romania, but for the first time in fourteen years, the celebrations took place in the surroundings of the County’s seat, Csíkszereda (or Miercurea Cuic in Romanian). The vast majority of the population in the County would define themselves as Székely, or ethnic Hungarian and Farsang would appear to be another opportunity to demonstrate these roots.
The starting point for all the groups, was in a large area opposite the main church in Somlyó, a church of pilgrimage for thousands at the start of June. There were many groups gathered, each with a placard showing the place that they represented. Székely flags fluttered in the cold wind, musicians struck up a tune, and impromptu dancing took place. Everyone was ready to bid farewell to winter.
There were men dressed as snowmen and others as horned beasts. The latter became the target of children’s snowballs and in return, the beasts would use their long extending instruments to catch them by the ankles. Shrieks of laughter and panic filled the throng, the rain failing to dampen spirits.
Before going to the festival, I was advised to go around the different groups and choose one to follow when they make their way off to their respective starting point. After speeches were given, the different groups started to head off, though rounding up all members of an entourage was not easy.
I duly followed the group that I chose to follow, as it gradually made its way through the crowd and out towards the road. There was a pause, to allow the group to gather and then we headed along the road away from the church. To my surprise, two coaches pulled up and the musicians, the costume wearers etc. all climbed aboard. So much for simply following the group.
At least I had a rough idea of where the groups were going, thanks to an online plan. I headed out of Somyló in the right direction, buses passed me and I came to a point where a group was gathering, buses were pulling up and then turning back to where they had come. Only this was a different group to that which I intended to follow. My choice had been made by default.
It turned out that the coaches were available to all, but the walk did me good. Then we were off, led by a man carrying the group name and a young lady bearing the Székely flag. We walked to our first stop where tables of food were laid out. A scene was played out, centred on the effigy of a rather excited-looking snowman. It was, however, about the death of winter and the demise of the snowman. This was followed by a lively tune and dancing to welcome the Spring. It was all performed in an obviously over-the-top manner, full of jokes, story-telling, and mirth. With the enactment over, attention turned to the laden-down food tables and the pouring of liquid refreshments.
It wasn’t long before plates of food and baskets full of delicacies were being passed around. Not just the actors, musicians and other players, but the whole crowd, including the followers-on, like myself. It didn’t stop there, a cup was placed in my hand and I had a range of beverages to choose from. The village palinka was the obvious choice.
And then it was off to head back in the direction of Somyló. The procession went into a yard where there was more food and drink, following a re-enactment of the snowman’s demise. It was another chance for villagers to catch up with neighbours.
Somehow I missed the burning of the snowman. The group then returned to the starting point at Somlyó Church. Back at the start, I met up with some fellow volunteers.
Taking place on 21st February this year, I could not help but think it was a bit early to be saying goodbye to winter. However, I totally understand the message, with the days lengthening and the worst of the winter over, it was a chance to encourage people to get out and simply catch-up.
Following a group by myself definitely had its advantages, despite my Hungarian being very close to non-existent. I ‘spoke’ with a couple of those in the parade and they could not have been more welcoming and generous, full of smiles. I was even passed the musicians ‘water’ bottle for a sip, well the label stated “Harghita Pearl” and contained a clear liquid. Another attendee made sure I knew when the procession was leaving. Sometimes it is easier to become immersed when one is by oneself.
Thanks to the below for kindly agreeing to be photographed.
All images in this post were taken on the mobile phone.