The informant is a Romanian American who was born in Bucharest, Romania in 1935. At age 37, my informant left Ceausescu’s Romania and arrived in the United States in 1972. She is a skin care specialist who currently resides in Los Angeles, California. She speaks slowly but very impassionedly.
My informant attended a midnight mass at a Romanian Church in Los Angeles in celebration of Orthodox Easter with her daughter. She did not enjoy the ceremony, and insisted that the ceremony was inferior to the ones she experienced when she was a child. About an hour or so after she attended this mass, I asked if I could record her as she recounted what she remembered about the ceremony of her childhood, since she seemed to really dislike the one she attended with her daughter that day, to which she agreed. The following is a transcript of the recording of her recounting her childhood religious ritual for Easter midnight mass. Mixed in with her description of her childhood mass is criticism of the mass she attended that night in Los Angeles.
(Audio recording transcribed)
“When I was kid, I remember you go to the church…first of all, you don’t go around the church in the resurrection night. That is done on Thursday or Friday, wait, not Friday…I think it’s done Thursday…yes, you do go three times around the church on Thursday night. And it’s a beautiful, beautiful mass, singing and it’s a joy because Christ is going to resurrect. It’s a night of joy, gorgeous, gorgeous mass inside the church. And at midnight, all priests with every staff of the church, with the crosses, they all are aligned, and they do go out from the church, in front of the church, and they are holding a smaller mass. And then, they do mention something in the scriptures, and then the priest starts lighting the candles right at the midnight. And then, when they finish that joy mass, they said, ‘Hristos a înviat, adevărat a înviat.’ And at that time, you do have the light on. Before midnight, it’s a mass inside the church. People are singing beautiful, traditional songs for Easter. That’s beautiful. Usually it’s a long mass. It starts about eight or nine at night. So there’s a long mass at night, and then at midnight you go outside…and in the church, the lights are always on. I’ve never, ever seen without the lights. I think the electricity was broken, because I’ve never seen anything like this. Christian Orthodox churches are supposed to be the most beautiful churches. It is byzantine church. When I’m at a beautiful mass, I don’t see anything around me, because I am with my God. Totally, totally different environment. It is something that elevates me and increases my believing in God, in good, in help…it elevates me. I didn’t feel church here. It’s sad.”
The focus of the Easter midnight mass ritual that this informant fondly remembers has some similarities and differences from a contemporary Easter midnight mass ritual I recorded. Although that they are similar in that people do at some point walk around the church three times, this informant was visibly upset by the differences: the fact that the midnight mass included walking around the church three times on Easter when it should have been done (according to this informant) on Thursday night, the fact that the mass was shorter in length than what she knew, the fact that the church where the mass is held was more ornate as child then it was that night, and the fact that the lights were turned off at some point during the mass when she had never experienced that in her childhood.
I found it incredibly interesting how these variations in the same piece of folklore could have such an emotional effect on someone. It was very reminiscent of that film we watched one day in the Forms of Folklore class on how insulted Serbian people felt when someone stated that people from another country claimed that a beloved, traditional song of Serbia in fact originated from that other country.