By Szeklerland we understand the old Szekler populations' chairs in Transylvania: today's Covasna, Harghita and the Mureș counties. In the Mediaeval times the area of the Szekler region was composed by the so called chairs, which at the time had the following names: The Chair of Mureș, The Chair of Odorhei, The Chair of Ciuc and Three Chairs.
Szeklerland is bounded by obvious natural borders, isolating the inhabitants from everything that is outside the area. The old popular habits were kept unbroken inside the borders, with their own unique complex of customs, language and dress. This is also the reason why the Szekler calls his county with dignity: Szeklerland – The Szekler Country.
The Szeklers also have their own writing known as the Szekler-runic writing. Generally, the runic writing was realized by carving on wood, an activity that determined also the name of this type of writing in the Hungarian language – rovasírás. This type of writing reads from the right to the left. The signs have also a decorative character, and that is the reason why they have been used also as ornamental elements.
In this area the Szekler gates have their specific splendour. Generally, there is a separate gate for the vehicles and another for the people. The two gates are attached as a whole unit. In this way, the gate can also be covered. The specific shape is given by the arch, that can be seen in 3 different forms. The Szekler gates are also remarkable for the expressivity of the rhymes carved into them. Here are a few eloquent examples:
„Peace to the guest, Blessing to the tripper." „If your intentions are good the gate's open for you, otherwise your way may be blocked" „The owner of the gate is a hospitable man, waiting for his guests with wide opened arms".
With the Szeklers the traditions are yet strongly ingrained in their conscience. Here traditions are kept alive with their ritual charge and they are the same even today: Country weddings, the carnival before Lent „Lăsata Secului", the Easter Feast and the day of the Parochial Patron. These occasions are marked by the popular clothes that are also worn by young people.
The Szekler gastronomy is based on a few basic culinary products: Potatoes, cabbage, pork meat and cream. They illustrate the harsh weather and the biting colds of the winters in this area. The culinary delights prepared on winter butchering of the hog are well-known: The bacon, the sausages, the roasted meat conserved in jars. Before the arrival of the potato the basic nutriments were the wheat and the rye. The most appreciated spice is the caraway which is made into a caraway stock by toasting it in oil. With the caraway they make also the „Szekler Caraway", that is actually an alcoholic drink. The most popular desert is the „Kürtöskalács", which got its name from the chimney of the stove, because the Szekler name the chimney „kürtőcső". The „Kürtöskalács" is the size of a piece of fire wood; the cake respects even its diameter. „Kürtöskolács" is is made from a yeasty dough that is wound around a tapering wooden cylindar. It is then is rolled into sugar, and while the bread is baked by rotating the cylindar over coals the sugar carmalizesl, giving brightness to the bread which is crisp on the outside and still chewy on the inner side.
The Chair of Odorhei
The Chair of Mureș
The Chair of Ciuc
Three Chairs is located in the south-eastern corner of Szeklerland. Over 90 villages occupy the area of the former Three Chairs.
An old folk tale says that a Szekler asked God to give him just enough land for three chairs. When God granted his wish, His tricky servant burned the three chairs and with their ashes managed to surround a quite large surface. This surface delimited by ashes he called Three Chairs.
Three Chairs was never a unitary ethnographic unit. The most important changes happened in the Chair of Șepși, and the least changed area is considered the Chair of Orbai. The Chair of Kézdi (today's city of Târgu Secuiesc and its surrounding area), and the area around Baraolt are the regions with the most traditions, where the oldest traditions are manifested, and folk art is most at home.
These areas are famous for their specific folk art, the woodworking, textile activities and the clay handicrafts that even today are very important for the inhabitants' life.
The most significant woodworking handicrafts include furniture painting, and carved chests, chiseled with decorations. The base colour of the furniture painted in Tg. Secuiesc is a dark green or a dark blue, over which they paint crowns with shining shades and tulips with plaited petals. In the Orbai Chair the carved chests are painted a shining red colour and light green or light blue , decorated with carnations and roses.
The painted furniture was a well-known product of the Baraolt area, and this preserved the ornamental treasures and the world of furniture forms specific to the Odorhei Chair and emphasized it's specific style that made it well-known. The Odorhei area can also lay claim to the famous, carved great Szekler gates, and the tradition of carving and erecting these special gates continues even today. If the folk art from Three Chairs, by means of it's connect with the culture of Szeklerland is representative of the nature of the people, we can say the same for the folk traditions there. The best preserved traditions, still going on today, are part of the celebration of „Lăsata Secului". The Szekler from Three Chairs finds his spirit best reflected in the aphorisms and jokes that the participants in the carnival before Lent „Lăsata Secului" celebration are delighted with.
The Easter traditions have their own, special customes, like blessing the fields and the spraying women with perfumed water. Blessinging the fields has a magic character. The people ask for protection of their fields, and by prayers there is established inclusively a sacred bond with the place. Also, through these joyful manifestations with the accompaniment of singing of those in the carts circling the fields, the young people learn where the borders are.
The Christmas habits are more dormant, most of them having been forgotten at Three Chairs. The best kept tradition from the religious celebrations is the pilgrimage for the day of the Parochial Protector. For the Catholics of the upper area of Three Chairs, pilgrimage spots were created for this occasion, and the most important is the one near the Sânziene.
The Chair of Odorhei is an old Szekler chair that once was an independent region. It is located on the west side of the Szekler region, bounded by the Homorodul Mare and Homorodul Mic rivers, the creeks of Vărșag, and the other affluents.
The aesthetics and the functionality of traditional architecture in this region have always existed side-by-side. The most important function of the family home was to ensure decent life conditions, but at the same time to create a proper climate for a family with many members. The construction wasn't acceptable without decorations. On the beams there were engraved inscriptions, on the pylons of the little towers there are chiseled ornaments, and the decorations of the facades through different construction techniques made a statment about the family within. So beyond being a simple habitation, the house had also the function of delimitating the owner in the society, giving him the social status he had in the community.
In the Szekler conscience the household is not conceivable without the great, wooden Szekler gates which gave a spectacular image to the street by way of their variety; in the Chair of Odorhei, the city of Satu Mare is the most representative from this point of view, where knowing the traditional value of the gates, they continue to be treasured.
Carving, chiseling the wood, braiding baskets, ceramic activities – they represent occupations that slowly turned into a trade, and in this way many villages became centers of these fields of activity. The artisan products from the area illustrate the talent and the abilities of the artisans, and also their owners' style and social position. Ornamentation can be found common tools as well as on the valuable ones. In addition to their basic function as decoration, the ornamentation has been used on the house objects for magic purposes.
The straw hats and the knitting from this area show up in commerce also outside the borders of the Szekler region. The most visited community in the Chair of Odorhei today is Corund, known as a village center of the ceramic activities, the streets of which change almost instantly into a market with stands according to the tourists requests.
The Chair of Mureș is an independent area and one of the old Szekler Chairs with capital in Tg. Mureș. The Chair of Mureș is located along three rivers: Mureș, Niraj and Târnava Mică. The Niraj and the Târnava Mică are adjacent to the Mureș, and amongst them, dominates the Mount „Bekecs" (the „holly" mountain of the Chair of Mureș). „ From the ornithological point of view, as from the hydrographic, the habitat of the Chair of Mureș has favorable conditions, with mild climate. It is also the most fertile agricultural area. Here sheafs of golden wheat of „Ceres" practically braid with the clusters of gapes of „Bachus"; here we find a proper land for vintages and also a proper area for viticulture," wrote Orbán Balázs. A tradition specific to the area is blessing the fields. On the second day of Easter the spraying of women with perfumed water begins, accompanied by the songsters. The Chair of Mureș – a county seat home to Hungarians from the Plain of Cluj, as well as a transition area to the Szekler region, has the most important dance traditions in Szekler region. Beside the levy Szekler dance, this region is also the country of the twisted dance „învârtita" which is unique to the Chair of Mureș. Here also appeared the „ciardaș" dance with the Szekler colourful dance moves or the gipsy „ciardaș" dance.
The Chair of Ciuc or the Country of Ciuc is the basin enclosed by the fir coverd mountains of Harghita and of the Middle Carpathians. Ciuc and Gheorgheni are the Szekler areas that, according to the ethnographic special bibliography, are considered important areas for preserving the traditions.
As is well-known, the Chair of Ciuc is the North Pole of Transylvania (also in Romania): it is a climatic curiosity. This happens because it lies in a narrow closed basin, where temperature inversions are very frequent; the cold air amasses in the Olt River's valley, while the surrounding mountains have a warmer temperature even in winter.
The Ciuc area is the country of mineral waters and moffets, where one can find a wide variety of waters containing iron, alkaline mineral salts, and even mildly radio-active waters with therapeutic effects. The inhabitants of the area have used the mineral water springs and the moffets in curative purposes for hundreds of years.
In the villages of this area there still are a few of the old customs. Most of the area still celebrates carnival before Lent - the feast of „Lăsata Secului". Where this custom no longer exists, one will see at least the masquerades. In a few villages in the lower Ciuc region, Ciucul de Sus and Gheorgheni, there still is the tradition of watching the holy tomb on Good Friday, and the tradition of blessing the fields on Easter has been revived. The memory of carpet weaving is kept through the painted Ciuc carpet. Important centers of pottery exists in Dănești and Mădăraș. Painted carpets were made up to the end of the 19th century. In certain isolated places from the areas of Ciuc and Casin they still weave painted woolen carpets and coverlets.
In the boarder areas of Ciuc there live the Ghimeș Ciangăi. They are located at the border of Moldova with Transylvania, at the spring headwaters of the Trotuș River. Here compact villages don't exist. Instead the houses are scattered along the small streams of the region. Often, these little creeks get their name from a family living along the creek (for instance, the Antal's Creek).
According to the Ghimeș Ciangăi, their ancestors were refugees from the Szekler areas to the west, trying to escape the levy of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, their name being derived from this: A ceangăi = to leave the community. The similarity of their clothes with those of the Ciangăi in Moldova is explained also by the fact that they had to hide. They used these clothes to trick their pursuers, so they could not recognize them. A unique aspect of their life style is living in the summer camp. Every spring, the people from Ghimeș moved to their summer residences in the mountain meadows and in the autumn, around St. Michael's day, they moved back to their winter homes. Their main occupation was to breed the animals in the mountains and the harvesting of the forests. Due to their border location they created their own culture that includes numerous Carpathian and Moldavian nuances. Despite the fact that their villages are quite scattered, their culture remains unitary. They have a rich ancient folklore, and the folk dance tradition is much diversified. The main way of celebrating for the Ghimeș Ciangăi was dancing. The ethnography specialists consider that there are approximately 35 occasions when they dance, and almost 30 different types of dancing. The main instrument of the villager musicians is the „gordonca".