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Grape harvest

In Transylvania the most important economical and social event of the autumn, starting September until the end of November, is the Grape Harvest. Contrarily to the other social farm works, the harvest in the vineyards was a collective labor, therefore the day ended with celebration and in convivial evenings. The Grape Harvest is a well-known popular activity, marked since the 16th -17th centuries, having already secular tradition. In the old times the vintage was a feast with tents, for which even the fighting valiant returned home. Starting 18th – 19th centuries people connected the vintage to an important date. So, in different regions the grapes harvest starts in different days: from St. Michael’s day (September 29th), until Simon’s – Judas’s day (October 28th). In our days the event can start even a month earlier, being related to the last day of harvesting. Big merriments and pageants were organized with this occasion, ending with big balls in the evening.

The vintage was a real event in the life of the village. Usually the harvesting involves lots of “noise”, after which the labor could start. On the harvest day, the pickers swarmed the vineyards singing joyful songs, being accompanied by the brass-band of the county. The band went from farm to farm, playing for the pickers, their payment were grapes or must given by the farmer. Joking, singing and having fun were customary during the labor. Afterwards, the evening became a real feast. On their way to the village the pickers were carrying on their shoulders a vintage wreath. This garland had a metal or wooden frame on which hanged clusters of grapes attached with wheat or ribbons, and there might also been some bottles of wine fasten to it. This is how the pickers were going to the dancing festivity. In the old times there were separate balls for craftsmen, for poor and for rich villagers. Then, especially in the small settlements, people made one bigger ball, gathering everybody. During the ball, the vintagers held their functions, one of their assignments being to guard the grape clusters hanging as decoration from those who were “stealing”. The “thieves” were “punished”: they had to pay a forfeit. The money coming from the penalty was used by the organizers for the expenses of the ball. Even today this game of “stealing grapes” is alive and is a part of the Grape Harvest Balls. Generally the balls last until morning.

In the 20th century the tradition of the Grape Harvest Ball prevailed to places were grapes not even growe. Usually the Ball is organized by the young people from the village. The ball has its characters: village mayors, dance masters, village drummers, men and women costumed in traditional dresses. The youngsters are electing a Mayor and a Mistress Mayor (like the King and Queen of the ball), from the most skilful young men and women. The escort of the mayor is composed of two pandours, two village drummers and two gypsies. The last two lads’ job is to entertain the audience, dressed up as gypsies.

The festivity starts with a pageant of traditionally-costumed young horsemen and women in decorated wagons and on horses. They go around the streets of the village and its surroundings singing and calling the youth to the ball. The Mayor’s wagon, where he sits together with the queen of the ball and with young girls having baskets with flowers, is followed by the two pandours on horses. The other young mem ride on horses, following this “royal” wagon. In old times the main figure of the entire event was the “King of Wine” (or the King of Ball), whose family was organizing and was responsible for the entire festivity. Another two important characters are the thief and the horseman, who amuse the audience with their “shouting”, but there are also other costumed persons having their role in the happening, such as the Turkish, the Blackmoor, the ambulant tradesman, the little master, the gypsy, etc.

The highlight of the ball is the dance of the horsemen and women costumed in their sumptuous traditional garments.

In some Szekler villages the Grape Harvest Ball is still considered the most important local festivity.

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