Romanian villagers light graveyard fires in Easter ritual

Romanian villagers light graveyard fires in Easter ritual
An elderly woman walks to a relative's graves at dawn in Copaciu, southern Romania, Thursday, April 25, 2019. On Maundy Thursday during the holy week of Easter, Orthodox Christians in small southern Romanian villages go to local graveyards before sunrise as part of a centuries-old ritual, light candles and small fires, release incense and leave small bags of food on the ground or offer them with to people. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

COPACIU, Romania (AP) — Orthodox Christians in a southern Romanian village lit fires and candles at the gravesites of friends and relatives, part of a centuries-old Easter ritual.

The fires burning Thursday before dawn in the village of Copaciu are believed to guide the souls of the dead during the night — or keep snakes, symbolizing evil — away from the graves.

The mostly elderly ladies taking part in the rituals, repeated across southern Romania, also burned incense and exchanged small bags of food.

The 78-year-old Elisabeta Marinescu recounted the tradition of walking behind funeral processions while sprinkling sand along the trails of the cemetery.

Marinescu said that, according to local customs, werewolves would be distracted gathering the grains of sand and wouldn’t have time to follow and take away the dead person’s relatives.