Human Flower Project
Lady’s Bedstraw: Midsummer in Romania
The celebration of Sanzeine, like other midsummer festivities in Eastern Europe, puts the focus where it should be—on beautiful young women and flowers.
“Gypsy maidens” carry crowns of flowers and grasses to a lake near Bucharest, Romania, to launch for Sanzeine.
Photo: Radu Sigheti, for Reuters
Calling all Romanian virgins!
Actually, we’re a mite bit tardy. Sorry. The Sanzeine celebration was a few nights ago. This old pagan custom of midsummer involves such delights as husband-predicting, fairy dancing, heavens’ opening and—the one that sounds the most fun to us – lighting a hay bale on fire and rolling it down a hill. (Don’t you dare try it, Texans! We’re under a burn ban, you know.)
Sanzeine also involves concerted flower picking, of Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) to be precise. We find it interesting that this flower is the same bright yellow as St. John’s Wort, and June 24th is St. John’s Day, too, another dancing occasion, often accompanied with flowers and fire.
Picking Lady’s Bedstraw (and other wildflowers) for Sanzeine in Romania
Photo: Destination Romania
It seems that the Roma in some parts of Romania still observe these old customs, though as we snoop around, Sanzeine smacks of revivalism rather than an uninterrupted folk tradition. These costumes just seem a little too much like, well, costumes, but we thought the same thing about the huipiles of Guatemala, and they were, in fact, the real everyday clothes of many Guatemalan women. May some Romanian folklorists offer clarification.
In the meantime, we hope readers will enjoy Radu Sigheti ‘s beautiful photos for Reuters, taken somewhere on the outskirts of Bucharest. We find it more likely that authentic Sanzeine traditions would take place in rural parts of the country, though (where fairies, hay, and Lady’s bedstraw are all more plentiful). This site recommends Borsa, not far from the Ukranian border. And this one recommends the Ardeal region (North Central).
A cow with horns wrapped in Lady’s bedstraw for Sânziene. Somehow when cows are involved, our authencity-ometer starts ticking madly.
Young women traditionally weave the lady’s bedstraw into crowns. “In some regions, the girls may keep the wreaths until the following year’s Sânziene. This, they believe, ensures a fertility for their family’s land. In addition, if they place the wreath under their pillow the night right after Sânziene, it is possible that they would have a premonition of the man they are to marry (ursitul, “the fated one”).”
Our apologies to the fairies, who really resent anything less than full-on celebrations, and to everyone else for our coming upon this floral customs four days late. What can we say? All you Romanian virgins. Hang in there for another 361 days. Okay, 362 – 2012 is a leap year.