A unique tradition in Romania: the bathing of the Johns

If your name is John and you live in a small village near Sibiu, it’s very likely that you’ll get wet on January 7th. And, even if the water it’s freezing cold, no one is upset, on the contrary, everybody is happy and cheering. Actually, is an old tradition it the village of Talmacel, 20 km from Sibiu, where on Saint John’s Day, every person whose name is John, or derivations, is bathed on the small river who is flowing through the village. Well, not the whole body is immersed in the freezing water, just the tip of the boots. And after the ritualistic bathing, inspired by the facts of the Saint John the Baptist in the Bible, every one has to take a sip of “palinka” – a strong plum brandy that will heat your body instantly.

On St. John’s Day, preparations begin early in the morning, and the central points of the village are the households where the allegorical chariot and the horses are adorned. The chariot and the horses is adorned with fir tree branches, traditional carpets and tablecloths made by the women from the village. The decoration of the carriage takes a few hours and engages a large number of male and female participants.

The cortege in 2017

The Johns are dressed in the morning of the feast, putting on traditional costumes prepared in advance with great care, before going to the church. They also receive some incense bead, to protect them against the evil eye.

The Johns

At noon, after the religious service has ended, the colorful cortege starts from the household where the carriage has been adorned to the creek. At the creek, the whole community is gathering, and everybody tries to find a place as good as possible to view the ceremony. The first to be bathed is traditionally the priest of the village, followed by the mayor, the deputy mayor, then the lads and the girls whose is name John and then the remaining locals bearing the same name.

The priest is the first to be bathed
The priest is the first to be bathed

The bathing of the Johns is the same for all: the Johns are taken on the arms of two or three lads and are sank with their feet in the water of the stream. The operation is repeated two or three times, and to make the ceremony more engaging, the boys pretend to slip them in the water. After all the Johns have received their baptism, the boys, girls, locals and tourists head for the central point of the village: the square in front of the church. Here, the traditional dance takes place, according to the well-known order: “sârba”, “învârtita”, “haţegana”, “jiana” and “hora”.

Dancing after the bathing
Dancing after the bathing

A few things to do in Sibiu you won’t find in any guide book

Planning a visit to Sibiu is easy: there are so many sources of information that sometimes the biggest hassle is to know how to filter it. Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, National Geographic, Tripadvisor. All of these guide books are doing a great job in giving you an introduction in Sibiu most valuable touristic attractions. But what if you want something different, out of the beaten path? Here are my tips:

  1. See Sibiu from above. The easiest way is to climb the council Tower in the main Square of Sibiu. But if you want a wider view go to Gusterita Hill on the Eastern side of the city. For its position was used during the WWI by the German troops. Or, if you’re passionate about hiking, choose Paltinis to meet the mountains. There are several places from you can enjoy a breathtaking view of Sibiu from 1400 m. My favorite one is the observation point from the Oncesti peak, easily accessible with chairlift.

    Sibiu seen from Paltinis
    Sibiu seen from Paltinis
  2. If you’re on Sunday morning in Sibiu you have to act like a local. Go to the church, preferably the Orthodox Cathedral in Mitropoliei Street. Romanians are quite religious and on Sunday morning the churches are filled with worshipers. If you’re for the first time in an Orthodox country, participating at the Sunday Mass can be a very good introduction in the rites and culture of Eastern Christianity.

    Evening mass in the Orthodox Cathedral in Sibiu
  3. Also, for Sunday, don’t miss the flea market. You would be probably the only tourist there, but even though you don’t want to buy anything, it worth to check on the antiques part of the market, where you can find all kind of usable and unusable stuff, from coins to old toys or metallic tools. Also, while you’re there, you don’t want to miss the best “mici” in town. If you don’t know what mici are, well, mentioning that they are the most popular barbecue dish in Romania is enough?

    Flea Market Sibiu
  4. If you’re in Sibiu on Saturday morning, you must go to the Farmers Market near the Sporting Hall. Don’t have breakfast before, as you’ll find there every thing you need for breakfast, lunch or dinner: all kind of local cheese, sausages and cold meats, home make cookies, and fresh bread, greens, vegetables, honey, fruits, all from the villages around Sibiu. In 2018, Sibiu will be the European Gastronomical Region, and the Farmer’s Market will be one of the places where a lot of events related with the local cuisine will take place.

    Cheese section at the Farmers Market in Sibiu