Sânziană is the Romanian name for gentle fairies who play an important part in local folklore, also used to designate the Galium verum flowers.
Under the plural form Sânziene, the word designates an annual festival in the fairies’ honor. Etymologically, the name stands for sân (common abbreviation of sfânt – “saint”, “holy”) and zână (a word used for fairies in general).
In Romania the Sânziene holiday annually is celebrated on June 24. This is similar to the Swedish Midsummer holiday, and is believed to be a pagan celebration of the summer solstice in June. According to the official position of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the customs actually relate to the celebration of Saint John the Baptist’s Nativity, which also happens on June 24.
The folk practices of Sânziene imply that the most beautiful maidens in the village dress in white and spend all day searching for and picking Galium verum. They are instructed to remain alone and unseen, especially by any males. Using the flowers they picked during the day, the girls create wreaths as floral crowns which they wear upon returning to the village at nightfall. They are then supposed to have turned into sânziene fairies, and dance in circle around a bonfire, into which all remains of the previous harvest are thrown. People are prevented from speaking to the girls during this ceremony, as it is presumed that the sânziene spirits possessing them might otherwise be angered or distracted.
In some regions, the girls may keep the wreaths until the following year’s Sânziene. This, they believe, ensures a fertility for their family’s land. In addition, if they place the wreath under their pillow the night right after Sânziene, it is possible that they would have a premonition of the man they are to marry (ursitul, “the fated one”). Another folk belief is that during the Sânziene night, the heavens open up, making it an adequate time for making wishes and for praying, as God is more likely to listen.
In some areas of the Carpathians, the villagers then light a big wheel of hay from the ceremonial bonfire and push it down a hill. This has been interpreted as a symbol for the setting sun (from the solstice to come and until the midwinter solstice, the days will be getting shorter).
Mircea Eliade’s novel, Noaptea de Sânziene (translated as The Forbidden Forest), includes references to the folk belief about skies opening at night, as well as to paranormal events happening in the Băneasa Forest.