PIETROSANI, Romania (AP) — Epiphany celebrations bring together hundreds of people in the Romanian village of Pietrosani for a day out in freezing temperatures that culminates in a bareback horse race across muddy, frozen or snowy fields.
The horse race tradition started in the area more than a century ago, according to residents, and it was banned during the years of Communist rule because of its association with a religious holiday.
The Balkan festival is the main event of the year in the village. The race generates high anticipation and lively discussion over hot glasses of red wine about who will be this year's winner, or debates about the best looking or decorated horse.
While horse racing events, like the Royal Ascot, are known for the extravagant attire of their spectators, in Pietrosani it's the horses' outfits that capture the most attention.
People try to secure position on higher ground or stand in carriages holding up cellphones as they gather in the field outside the village to admire and photograph the animals sporting colorful textile, leather and brass accessories, sometimes even Christmas tree decorations.
Owners warm up their horses for the race while others show off the strength of their animals by making them pull tree trunks or concrete blocks in competitions. Villagers gather around the horses trying to get a closer look, often risking serious injury.
An Orthodox priest arrives in a horse drawn carriage after midday amid the cheers of spectators and starts sprinkling holy water on animals and owners rotating around his carriage in a chaotic and very noisy procession.
Villagers then compete in the bareback race, wearing no protective gear at all.
The blessing of animals on Epiphany, especially those used for work, is thought to bring good luck and protect them from disease and accidents in the coming year and dates back hundreds of years.
While church dogma allows only humans to be blessed with holy water, on Epiphany, or Boboteaza in Romanian, the day Christians celebrate the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan river by John the Baptist, priests nowadays allow the blessing of animals and, in some instances, cars and other goods.