Baciu’s Memories of Brasov: Languages, Holidays

From Praful de pe Tobă: Memorii 1918-1946, by Stefan Baciu (Editura Mele, 1980), pp. 8-9 (my translation):

I was sent to a Saxon kindergarten. It seems to me that it would have been on Castle Street, beneath Mt. Tâmpa, but I don’t remember the exact location, even though I can still see before me the dark stairway to the upper floor. Fraülein’s name would seem to have been Liewehr, and I see myself singing, leaping like a pony, hear melodies like “Wulle, wulle, Gänschen” and “Alle Vögel sind schon da,” and see myself sitting on a stool cutting stars out of cardboard for the Christmas tree, on each of which Fraülein had written in gothic letters “Ştefan” and which Mama used to hang from the tree year after year. At about the same time, I went once or twice a week to a nursery school where we learned French with the Grande Dame Staia, singing “Savez-vous planter le chou.”

My education was, from the beginning, trilingual: Romanian at home, German in my earliest schools, Hungarian with the maidservants, because the latter all came from Szekler villages. Hungarian, I haven’t heard since leaving Brasov in 1937, and I’ve almost totally forgotten it, except for the songs I used to hear in the kitchen or on the Promenade, where we used to go for walks, listening to the city orchestra composed of solemn gentlemen in black jackets and stovepipe hats.

Christmases were celebrated at our home, where all the family gathered, but from the morning of Christmas Eve we were sent to my Aunt Jenny, who lived far from us, sometimes on Fork Street (Cuza Voda), sometimes on Postal Orchard. My parents felt bound to resort to this strategy because it was hard for them to restrain me until the arrival of the “Angel.” In those years, Father Christmas didn’t exist in Transylvania, and Saint Nicholas used to come on the evening of the 6th of December.

Otherwise, these traditions were scrupulously respected at home. At Easter came the Bunny, with Father making the sound of speedy steps going into the distance, to show that the Bunny had run past our house, leaving behind red eggs and chocolates, mandarins, and oranges. On the 6th of December came Saint Nicholas, with a big sack on his back, with a fur hat over his eyes and a white beard, in whom I believed with a religious intensity until I discovered that he wore the same gaiters as Father, and which he had bought a few days earlier at Lischka.

Christmas was, of course, the ultimate celebration, with a tree that reached to the ceiling, mountains of presents (the maidservants would carry theirs off in woven clothes baskets), a huge meal, interrupted by carolers who came down from Şchei hillside, or up from Old Brasov, who ended off with the chorus “To Şaguna High School” before being invited to partake of wine and pound cake. Name days were not celebrated; instead, birthdays had a special importance, with a ritual I still follow today, across decades and continents. Speaking of religious celebrations, I cannot forget Epiphany, when on the Twelfth Night came the archpriest Iosif (Sâvu) Blaga or the priests Nae Stinghe and Furnica, who had baptized me, and was now professor of religion at the “Real School” (Liceul Dr. Ioan Meşota).

NOTES: ‘The Grande Dame’ renders doamna maior; ‘stovepipe hats’ renders ţilindru pe cap (usu. cilindru) ‘cylinder on the head’; ‘continents’ renders geografii ‘geographies’; ‘Father Christmas’ renders Mos Crăciun; ‘Epiphany’ renders Bobotează (cf. boteza ‘baptize’); Twelfth Night (= Epiphany) renders Iordanul (the Jordan [River]); archpriest = protopop. I hadn’t realized that the Epiphany holidays came to focus on the baptism of Christ (in the Jordan River) among Eastern-rite Christians but on the coming of the Magi among Western-rite Christians. The Wikipedia entry for the holiday contains an interesting observation that may apply to Transylvanians in general: “Hungarians, perhaps because of their location between East and West, celebrate the coming of the Magi, but refer to the celebration as Vízkereszt or “water cross,” clearly a reference to baptism.”

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Filed under Austria, education, Hungary, language, religion, Romania

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