Boboteaza -The Day When Basil Blesses the Waters in Romania
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Basil is an important plant for our orthodox religion, present in all masses and rituals, but its most important contribution is, without a doubt, on Boboteaza Day : the religious celebration of Christ's baptism, celebrated every year, on January 6 . The priests use basil for blessing the water, but this isn't the only use of basil on this day. Romanian tradition says that basil has magical powers which can help a single young girl dream about the man who is meant to be her future husband.
Until I was 17 I had never heard anything about the love traditions of Boboteaza Day, also called Epiphany. I only knew it was the day when we celebrated Christ's baptism and when the waters were blessed in church during a religious ceremony. My Mom and I always went to the church on Boboteaza Day for the mass and for getting a bottle of blessed water, which is called "aghiasma", in Romanian. The ancient belief was that "aghiasma" had miraculous powers and could cure any disease, so if we drank a bit of it each morning we would be purifying our body and spirit and would have more health and luck. I remember how amazed I was to find basil in the blessed water, so I asked my Mom why. She told me that basil is a holy plant and has miraculous powers, that's why it is used for blessing the waters. Later I understood that, besides its holy origin, basil has antibacterial properties in its essential oils, which contributes to the ancient belief that the blessed water can cure any disease.
The priest from our church always came to baptize every home in our neighborhood on Boboteaza Day, with the blessed water and a clump of dry basil sprigs. He would dip the basil into the blessed water and sprinkle on the walls and on our heads, while saying a little prayer. We had to make the cross sign and kiss the icon representing Christ. The same ceremony is performed by orthodox priests baptizing a new home, a new land or even a new car, using the same blessed water and the basil sprigs. In my family we have always called the priest for baptizing these things.
The tradition of the religious ceremony of blessing the waters on Boboteaza Day comes from ancient times in our country. The priests blessed the waters in huge barels by saying prayers to the Lord and by dipping a silver cross and basil sprigs in it. Tradition says that the skies open during the religious ceremony and the blessed water serves for chasing away the bad spirits. Every year on Boboteaza Day people all over the country are coming to church to take a bottle of blessed water home. Those who live next to a river or at the Black Sea (we have access at the Black Sea along the southeastern border of Romania) can experience a more exciting tradition, of throwing and recovering the cross from the waters. The priest throws away a big wooden cross in the river or in the sea to bless the waters and the most brave young men jump in the river or in the sea to recover it. They are even braver because at this time of year it's usually a very hard winter in Romania and a deep freeze, especially on this very day. It is usually called "The Boboteaza Freeze", which has become a Romanian saying for signifying the deepest freeze of all winter. A wooden cross and a basil sprig attached to it is also used for blessing the roof of any new construction. We also had one when building the roof of our house.
Basil, originally native to India, has been considered a holy plant and given the name from the Greek basileus, meaning "king" after - acording to the legend - the Empress Helena and her son, Emperor Constantine, found it growing on the original True cross of Christ - hence our very old orthodox custom to hang basil sprigs above a religious icon. A different species of basil is also considered a sacred plant in Hinduism, Tulsi - the Holy basil, and it is also used for religious rituals. Similar stories about a boy who cries for his dead girl and his tears turn into basil are found both in Hinduism and orthodox religion. 
This is what must have been the basis for our old love traditions on Boboteaza Day, when it is said that the young single girls can dream about their future meant to be husband if they would be sleeping on the night before this celebration with a basil sprig under their pillow. My Mom told me about this tradition when I was 17 and I was so excited about it! Like any other girl at that age, I wanted to know who I was going to marry. Only, according to our tradition, I also had to bake a small and very salty bun and then eat it before going to bed, so I would be very thirsty during the night. If I would have dreamed about a man who brought me water, that one would have been the man I would marry. I baked the bun and ate it although it was so salty, but curiosity was bigger than my thirst, so I endured it all with bravery. I had a basil sprig from the church which I put under my pillow and, there I was, ready for going to sleep and dream of the man of my dreams. Night slipped away and when I woke up I started to laugh when I remembered my dream. It was so funny because I dreamed about going to the cake shop in our neighborhood and pouring myself a glass of water which I drank with thirst. Mom said that was a sign that I wasn't going to marry that year, and that was true - I got married two years later.
I didn't want to try this again, nor any of other strange customs for finding out about the man I was going to marry. But something strange did happen on the very year I got married. It was also a Boboteaza belief that if an unmarried girl should slip on ice on Boboteaza Day she will certainly marry that year. And this is what happened to me and my husband (my boyfriend at that time) we both slipped on ice on Boboteaza Day that year, 32 years ago. Are you getting goose bumps after reading this? I do, even after so many years, just thinking at that custom and at how it came true for me!