In the Winds of Change We Always Find Our Direction
1000 Székely Girls… A Rite of Passage
The sun reflected it’s strong light from the cupola stage, blinding me momentarily as I stood in Csiksomlyó’s famous “Saddle,” overlooking the city of Csikszereda below. All around me streaked bright flashes of red, black, white and green converging in a harmony of young women and girls dressed in their traditional cultural costumes. Then, from out of nowhere, a flock of white doves were released, the universal symbol of peace, spreading their wings, their urge was to fly free. They leapt from their cages in unison, soaring over all of us in this sacred place, so naturally beautiful.
This was the day of the annual festival of the “Ezer Székely Leány Találkozó”, translation: The Gathering of 1000 Székely Girls, and here I was, finally as a participant, in a Rite of Passage to celebrate my cultural heritage!And what a day it was to be dressed in traditional woollen garb, as it was turning out to be one of the hottest days of the summer of 2014. To say I was boiling over in my outfit would have been an understatement. But I felt extremely honoured to have the opportunity to wear it, for it was a family heirloom, over 110 years old, completely hand-woven and sewn. This festival not only celebrates the young women of the region, but it also invites all the youth of each regional village to come in their individual uniquely patterned Transylvanian Székely dress. Each village, like the clans of the Scottish Highlands, has their unique, distinct design that is steeped in its own local meaning and lore. For me, today was about honouring my Great-Great-Grandmother. It was her dress that I was wearing, and I felt a part of her living in me as I stood here. She was from the village of Csíkszenttamásand because the dress was over 100 years old, it turned out that there was no other like it from that village.
This festival is held every year on the first Saturday in July, and thousands of Hungarians and Transylvanians flock into Csikszereda to celebrate living culture and heritage. Parts of this tradition are the costumes I have described, but another part is the pilgrimage type journey that all the youth make to this mountaintop. They arrive on horseback, in horse-drawn carts, walking, and all singing the folk songs of their villages, which are a living history and a connection to where they have collectively come from. The final part of this journey is making their way up the steep Csiksomlyó Nyereg or Saddle, where a full day of celebrating the Transylvanian culture culminates!
My cousin and I woke at dawn with the anticipation and excitement of being real first time participants. One of the highlights of the day is to see who is going to claim the number one registration number (Székely/Transylvanian Girl #1) and who will be judged to have the most outstanding traditional attire. After our 5 km hike out of Csíkszereda, we rushed with great expectations over to the entry tables where a massive hoard of girls in traditional costumes were racing to sign in their name to claim the title. My cousin and I joined into the fun and after I managed to grab a form and fill it in, I officially became the 23rd Transylvanian Girl! My cousin Katinka, with her local nous and a bit of pushing and shoving, was able to snag #8. I got the feeling after seeing how the numbers were being handed out, that perhaps a small bribe might have snagged the number you want. Our registration also served as a way of counting exactly how many Transylvanian girls, dressed in traditional garb was participating.
Next was to enter into the competition for “The Most Outstanding Traditional Costume” and knowing that my dress had belonged to 5 other generations before me, I harboured some hope that my name would be mentioned. In the end my wish was granted, for out of the 2135 girls that were officially registered for the festival, I had made the Top Ten! Well, my costume did that is to say.
The day is filled with traditional music, dances and performances and almost every village has its own troop and style of choreography to the Székelyföldi, translated as the dance of Transylvania.Long aisles of steaming hot traditional foods such as “Flekken” / BBQ’d Pork Steak,“Miccs” (Pronounced Mitch), which you might know as Ćevapi or skinless sausage, which has a distinctly Transylvanian mix of spiced lamb and beef mince, Kolbász (BBQ’d Paprika Sausage), “Lángos (Fried Bread), “Pánkó” (deep-fried hole-less doughnuts) and “Kürtös Kalács” (Chimney Cake), just to name a few, are on offer. They all stream out to an ever-hungry horde of Székelys prepared to wait their turn in long queues.
This day also brings out the opportunity to actually meet and interact with the incredibly talented and most humble of local artisans. There is a plethora of stalls selling traditional wares and gifts, from hand carved and painted necklaces, to intricate wood carvings, to the traditional harmonica folded dancing boots and mountains of exquisitely decorated gingerbread that come in all shapes and sizes. I loved hopping from stall to stall, surprised again and again by something unique, that was made by hand, love and care.
The whole day was filled with one wondrous experience after another! My cousin and I whirled around, dancing with other girls, and we enjoyed the local delicacies for lunch and I indulged in Töltött Káposzta (Stuffed Cabbage, but the vegetarian kind, prepared by my aunty) and enough sugary, cinnamon Chimney Cake to send a diabetic into a coma!
Finally, everyone in traditional costume was called to the front for one gigantic group picture that required the photographer to sit five stories high in a crane, to take the shot. This was the moment of the doves’ release and I, amongst all these other girls, was sent into a swirling sea of appreciation and gratitude for having enjoyed this joyous experience and celebration of local life. The sea of angelic white fluttered about us, and I was gently brought back to the reality of my mother and grandmother calling to me.
Perhaps it was the giddy feeling of happiness or too much Chimney Cake, but for the whole day, I felt like I was on top of the world and since the venue for this festival was the highest point in the city and had a breathtaking view, it was pretty close to the real thing. I had a magical day in Csikszereda with all my friends and family. It was like I had followed in my ancestors’ footsteps in being part of this festival. At the end of the day, when we were descending back into the city that was lit up with the maroon and golden light that was the sunset, I felt and knew that my Great-Great-Grandmother was smiling on me too.
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