Romania is a land of many traditions and Christmas is no exception. We know that Christmas is approaching when we hear in the village the first drum-beat (mid November)… Children, teenagers and adults come together twice a week, in the evening, to rehearse for the most valued Festival of the year – The Bear Festival ( https://www.facebook.com/valorilenoastre/videos/1684801401811067/ )
During the night of Saint Andrews (end of November), Romanians believe that bad spirits (the vampires!) may attack at night, which is why most households will hang a garlic clove on their front gate to keep Dracula away 😕 .
Then, on the 6th of December we celebrate Saint Nicholas, one of the most awaited holidays of the year especially by children. In the Romanian culture, Mos Nicolae (Saint Nicholas) comes with gifts on the night between December 5 and December 6. He places gifts in children’s polished boots, apart for those who have been naughty. Instead, they receive a stick (trust me I’ve got the stick 😉 ). Apparently, a snowy day means that the Saint has shaken his beard for the winter to start.
December is also busy with the pig (porc) sacrifice. The ritual dates back to pre Christian times and remains an important part of Christmas preparations. The members of family come together for the day to enjoy mouth-watering dishes (pomana porcului). Nowadays, the ritual has many tourist implications, being a highlight of winter holidays in rural Romania. The meat is used in Christmas meals like sarmale (delicious meat-and-rice rolls wrapped in cabbage, served with polenta), smoked sausages, gammon and other (difficult to translate) dishes. The traditional desert is cozonaci, a sort of sponge cake with nuts, cocoa, and Turkish delights but we also bake various tarts and sweets.
Carols (colinde) and traditional music form an integral part of the festive season. Many compilations of Christmas music are released in Romania, with some played around the world.
The carols are accompanied by rituals, costumes and theatrical performances which create an authentic display, for example Steaua (the Star boys’ singing procession), Capra (The Goat), and Plugusorul.
The 24th evening is magical for each family, we put the Christmas tree up whilst children go from door to door singing. As a child I used to travel with friends through the whole village singing carols and receiving in exchange coins, sweets and fruits! The sound of music made the village vibrate and words cannot explain the joyfulness!
I still recall my first encounter with Santa who, to my surprise, was wearing my next neighbour shoes! Instead of focusing on the song (yes, same as in Latvia we had to recite a poem or sing to Santa to receive the gifts) I was making enquiries about Santa’s shoes 😕 .
During Ceausescu’s Era, Christmas was banned because of its religious connotations yet people continued to celebrate. Christmas days (25 to 27) have always been a great opportunity for family members to spend precious time in the warm, loving, and atmosphere of their home.
New Year celebrations start on the 31 December in the morning with the Bear Festival, Capra and Plugusorul continuing until the 2nd of January.
The festive season is a truly authentic experience with unusual rituals (after all we’re in Dracula’s land), which I hope will continue to attract the new generations. Snow, crispy cold, shiny stars, the drum-beat are a few of the magical memories of my childhood.
All I wish for Christmas is snow and the sound of drum and carols!
Wishing you a Cracium Fericit! (Merry Christmas)!
Dr. Cristina Vasilica, Research Fellow in Digital Health