When the heavy snows of the harsh Brasovian winters are gone and spring sun shines again, it is the time for people from Schei, the old district of Brasov, to start celebrating the renewal. Yearly, they have a festival, called “Junii”, (translated it would be ‘The Feast of the Youth’) which stretches over weeks, having it’s climax on the first Sunday after Easter when seven groups of men from the Schei will ride from the mountains and travel around Brasov. They will be carrying with them mace like batons, which are scepters and flags, along with each group having their own special and unique costumes.
Although the origins have been lost, the inhabitants of Schei still live by the traditional and very well established rules. The first Sunday after Easter it is the time to celebrate the new year of the Dacians, the ancestors of the Romanians. It is also the celebration of spring, the renewing of nature and the beginning of new life. The oldest document recorded in which this procession is mentioned is from 26 March 1728 but it is assumed that the celebration already existed in antiquity.
The men riding the horses are the “Junii” (young men) of Brasov from the Schei neighborhood. In all there are seven groups, which is due to the religious belief that God made the world in seven days. Each group comes also from a different quarter in the Schei neighborhood. The costumes of each team differ through color and badges. The leader of ceremonies wears a shirt adorned with 40000 colorful spangles, weighing 20 lbs. The first group are the Junii Tineri (the younger unmarried men), the flags that this group carries has the image of the Saguna college on one side and a mounted June on the other side. The hats that they wear have a three colored band. The second group are the Junii Batrani (the older younger married men), this group precedes the Junii Tineri who got married. The Third group is the Junii Curcani (the Turkey youths), this group’s flag holds the Mihai Viteazu’s (the first king who united the three Romanian provinces) countenance. They are more recognizable with the fact that they wear black fur caps with a turkey feather. The fourth group is the Junii Dorobanti (nation of soldiers); this group’s flag holds the image of a mounted June and the bugler soldier, while the Junii themselves wear gray fur caps. The fifth group is the Junii Brasovecheni (the older Brasovians or the Junii of the old city), the flag holds Al. I. Cuza’s image (first modern Romanian ruler), and they wear black caps with a top. The sixth group is the Junii Rosiori (the red young men or the horseman Junii), who wear a picked cap with a red tuft. And the last group is the Junii Albiori (the young whites or whitish Junii), who wear white fur caps and have the same flag as the Junii Brasovecheni.
The uniqueness of the event comes mainly from the traditional costumes that they wear, some made around the 1730’s. The basic outfit consists of a special pair of trousers, boots, a long white linen shirt with the sleeves garnished with national motifs and a hat. Each group has their own variations on this. The horses are also highly decorated for this celebration, with the harnesses and saddles being draped in all sorts of traditional decorations. The Romanian flag also plays a big part in the occasion. Traditional Romanian songs are sung and dances danced. Young men are then placed, one by one, in the middle of the dancers and throw the scepter in the air, while everyone runs for cover. This custom is considered a kind of initiation ritual, when the boys are supposed to pass some tests of maturity and bravery. Whoever throws the scepter highest in the air wins the competition. After the ritual ends, if the weather is good, the Junii and their families will have a barbecue with traditional music and the Romanian hamburger called “mic”.
The whole feast takes place over a week. Monday involves getting everything ready, where they gather to the leader, collect painted eggs and have a party. They all meet on Tuesday at noon and have a feast in the square, after which they throw the scepter-like mace into the air, which is followed by eating and drinking: another party basically. Wednesday is the climax to the feast, although nowadays it has no significance. On Thursday everybody goes to the leader, where they perform the “Ingroparea Vatafului”. This ritual has been preserved from the tribes of the Dacians, more than 2000 years ago. The tradition involves tying the leader onto a ladder and then carrying him around while a priest gives the funeral rituals. In order for the leader to be let down, he has to promise a large quantity of wine to the group. Another tradition is “aruncarea in tol”. This is where up to ten Junii hold a blanket and toss a new June into the air, which is meant as an initiation into the group. In the beginning it was only the young men who were tossed. One other ritual, “Junite” (Woman of the Junii), is also a strange one, in which the women only play a small part in the ceremony and it only happens on the Monday. The Junii approach the women where they then receive eggs dyed red from them. After each of the Junii has received his red egg, he sprays the woman with perfume. On Friday and Saturday the Junii prepare for Sunday, with possible behind the scenes partying. The most important day is Sunday, when, in the morning, all the groups prepare their suits and embellish the horses, they then gather in front of the St. Nicholas church in the order:
1. Tineri (the younger unmarried men)
2. Batrani (the older younger married men)
3. Curcani (the Turkey youths)
4. Dorobanti (soldiers)
5. Brasovecheni (the older Brasovians or the Junii of the old city)
6. Rosiori (the red young men or the horseman Junii)
7. Albiori (the young whites or whitish Junii)
The whole procession is opened by a marching orchestra, and heads from the church to the Muresenilor St, then to the Balcescu St and through the Schei gate and onward to the Pietrele lui Solomon, where the parade ends. The day is then full of games and more partying. The evening ends with all going to Casa Sfatului and making a circle around the house, after which everybody just goes home.
The Junii Brasovului festival is an ancient tradition. In true Romanian spirit, where traditions live on, the festival has multiplied and it is now an occasion to be marked on all Brasovians’ calendars.