upon our arrival to michigan, my grandma mentioned that if we could extend our stay by one day, we'd be able to attend a podestat in honor of my great aunt eleanor. not knowing much about my romanian heritage nor a traditional podestat (hopefully this is the correct spelling- after some google research, i only found this tradition listed under another name: maramure), we decided to stay and see what all the hooplah was about.
we arrived to the romanian orthodox church as the priest was finishing his sermon. we took our seats at round tables with full table settings beneath a plastic tablecloth. the room was hot and crowded and smelled of food. the priest, only speaking in romanian, dawned a long white beard and wore an aqua cloak adorned with gold embellishments he spoke in song holding a large silver incense burner and frequently made the sign of the cross across his body. after about 30 minutes, he called the families of the deceased (there were three sets of families), to the highly adorned alter.
at this point, the room suddenly got much warmer as we stood in front of the crowd. between the two crowds of people flanking the priest, sat a long, 8 foot table. on the table sat eleven round loaves of braided bread speared with many yellow candles, two large carlo rossi jugs of wine, and two large cakes decorated with the sign of the cross and halloween candies. as the candles burned and the priest continued to speak in prayer, three men separate from the families sang along with the priests prayers and answered his phrases in song.
between each prayer, the priest would read the names of the deceased's survivors and other direct family members. after about twenty minutes of prayer, song & name listing, the priest said something (again, this was all in romanian, so i had no idea what was happening) and all family members standing on the alter began surrounding the 8 foot table in front of the priest. those closest to the table grabbed the underside of the table while everyone in the outer circle of the group who were unable to reach the table, placed their hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. then, in unison, everyone lifted the table (with bread, candles, wine and all) and began raising and lowering the table as the priest continued to pray and sprinkle red wine on all the food on the table.
once this overwhelming and more notably, fire hazard of the levitating table ritual was complete, the table was once again placed on the alter and everyone left to take their seats for the traditional romanian feast. per this website, the charity that follows, usually in the yard of his house is made up of wheat bread, noodles with milk, stuffed cabbage with meat and rice (called "sarmale"), potatoes with fried meat, donuts, etc. before everyone starts eating, the priest and the attendance say a prayer for the dead and bless the meal. in case there should be persons missing, a second and even a third charity is organized, in order to satisfy the whole community. basically, this event is given to the community on behalf of the deceased as a thank you for the support to their families during the time of grief and the help the community would have likely provided them during their living years.
during this podestat a. and i enjoyed some very traditional romanian cuisine despite being romanian, this was my first sampling of romanian fare. while interesting, it was pretty good. my favorite? the sour soup.
i'm really, really glad we stayed for this experience. it was very cool to see my heritage in all it's glory, meet many members of our extended family, and enjoy some unique food. it's definitely something i'll always remember & an experience i was glad a. could join me for as well.