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“Nopţi de Sânziene” Midsummer Night’s Festival (Borşa)

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Nopţi de Sânziene” Midsummer Night’s Festival (Borşa)

If Borşa, situated in the extreme eastern part of the county, is better known for tourists as “little Switzerland”, being an ideal place for a winter ski resort (even on Olympic level!), few people know that, at the summer solstice, it hosts a festival called “Nopţi de Sânziene” (Midsummer Nights). The festival has been happening for over two decades by now and it is superimposed on an ancient custom.

Each year, on the night of the 24th of June, lads and children, and also maids whirl around their heads burning torches. The torches are made some days before, out of dry straw split into four or eight in the middle of which they put resin collected from spruce and fir trees. In order to light them faster, they add wood splinters and tow. (Afterwards, the torches will be put on vegetable beds or between the rows with potatoes to protect them from pests.) It is also then that the girls pick “sânziene” (ladies’ bedstraw) flowers, and during the night, in hidden places, they bathe naked in the waters of Repedea, Vişeu or Tişlea. The festival “Nopţi de Sânziene”is held in the town and begins with a promenade, a presentation the folk costumes, after which the folk assemblies present their performances on an outdoor stage.

In the past, the feast was celebrated in other Maramures communities as well, e. g. in the villages of Vişeu, Săcel and Budeşti.

In the traditional society the blooming of the “sânziene” marked the beginning of the summer agricultural works, the cutting of hay etc. Groups of children and lads used to climb on the hills with torches, gathered in circles, lit their torches and whirled them round their heads in the direction of the Sun’s rotation.

During the same night, they used to make wreaths of “sânziene” (Lat.Galium verum, Rubiaceae family) and throw them on the roof, one for each family member. According to tradition that night the wind is stronger. Those whose wreath did not fall down could expect to have a beautiful life. It is also said that “the same night, the beautiful fairy Zâna Sânziana bathes in the waters of Vişeu and then puts on a long white shirt made of the flowers whose name she bears”.

According to folk tradition, Sânziana is a mythical character, identified with the Moon, the Sun’s sister, or with a fairy of flowers. On an ancestral cultural level she used to be the goddess of love and of flowers.

As concerns the etymology of the name, researchers have two theories: the noun Sânzeana comes from Sancta Zea (the feminine of Zeus), like “Sângeorz” from the Latin Sanctus Georgius (“Saint George”); in the same way the name of the goddess Diana (Sancta Diana) has become in Romanian Ileana or Diana (Ileana Sânziana). There is a third hypothesis according to which the two mythological figures – Ileana for the Geats and Diana for the Romans – have been superimposed, having the same function. Thus, the same divinity, with different names in two different cultures, had been venerated under both names.

Fact is that this custom, admirably preserved in the space of Maramures, has to be related to the Sun cults and to the Indo-European solar myths, in which the sun used to be the principal divinity of the pantheon. It is well-known that the Mythraic and the Sol Invictus cults had been widely spread on the territory of Roman Dacia.

Dragoş of Bedeu and the Hunting of the Wisent

The wisent head has been on the coat of arms and the seal of the Lands of Maramures and Moldova (beginning with the 14th century), and it is nowadays on the coat of arms of the Republic of Moldova (since 1990), and also on that of the post-December ’89 Romania.

The story of this heraldic insignia begins in the legendary land of Maramures, in the time when the kings of Hungary were trying to introduce the tenets of their administration and feudal politics in this “surrounded by royal garrisons” but still independent “country”.

In this context, in 1352-53, a Transylvanian army enters Moldova, and with the support of the local population, drives the Tartars over the Dniester, in Crimea. A small army of fighters from Maramures, under the leadership of Dragoş from Bedeu, took also part in the expedition. As a reward for his courage, the king of Hungary awarded him the title of voievode and royal deputy in Moldova, aiming thus to defend the eastern side of the Carpathians from the Tartars’ attacks. Dragoş installed his seat at Baia. These are the historically attested facts.

Still, the “official founding” of the principality of Moldova is, according to the chroniclers’ historiography, connected with a legendary event: the hunting of the wisent (aurox) by a Romanian from Maramures, Dragoş, who then became the first voievode of Moldavia.

In all the chronicles, up to that by Grigore Ureche, the story is roughly the same: “And among them, there was a wise and valiant man by the name of Dragoş, and he hath started together with his merry men to hunt the wild beast and, at the feet of those tall mountains they found the traces of a wisent...And they passed the mountains and caught up with the wisent on the banks of a river, under a willow tree, and they killed it and feasted on their hunt. And Dragoş set up his seat on the waters of Moldova at first, and then, he settled in the place called Baia, and then in other places...And he made a royal seal for all the country with a wisent head on it. And Dragoş hath reigned for two years.”

Historian Alexandru Filipaşcu (1940) stated that the pretext of the wisent hunt “is nothing but a creation of folk fantasy, impressed by the presence of the fierce animal in the forests of Maramures”. On the other hand, Mircea Eliade (1970) considered that “the legend of Dragoş represents only one of the multiple variants on the theme of the ritual hunt”, of meridional origin and with roots in prehistory. But the ritual hunt of the wisent has to be considered as purely autochthonous for the reason that for the Dacians this animal had a “religious” prestige.

According to unconfirmed information, the last wisent was shot in 1852. Nevertheless, folk literature and the numerous place names from the area have preserved in the collective memory the remembrance of that memorable hunt and the character of the participants in it. The Wisent Head has been a “registered trademark” and a state insignia for hundreds of years. And Dragoş remains the hero who had generated this brand, a prince from Maramures, the first voievode of Moldova, his personality being overshadowed only by his contemporary – Voievode Bogdan of Cuhea.

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