Saint Andrew’s Day: Story, Legends and Rituals

For all you out there who decided to visit Romania around the date of 30th of November, you should know that you stumbled upon one of Romania’s most important religious holidays: Saint Andrew’s Day.

Saint Andrew is considered to be the one who came to these land to preach the word of Jesus and convert the local population to Christianity. We even have a cave in Dobrogea region that he, allegedly, has used as shelter during his time spent here. He is the patron saint of Romania and one of the big saints of the orthodox religious calendar, so big that Saint Andrew’s Day has been declared a national holiday therefore a non working day. Everyone named Andrew or Andreea celebrate their name’s day.

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Cave of Saint Andrew in Dobrogea region (photo source)

Saint Andrew died crucified in Patras, Corinth in Greece. His cross was not a usual one: it was in the shape of an X and he was crucified with his head down. The cross now bears the name of Saint Andrew’s  Cross.

 But the story of the 30th of November  goes way beyond  christian times: this holiday has two parts - the pre- christian, Dacian one and the christian part

The 30th of November, the last day of autumn, is also suppose to be the day when our ancestors, the Dacians, celebrated the beginning of a new year, the end of a natural cycle and the start of a new one. Also known as the day of the Great White Wolf.

Great White Wolf is a mythical beast, leader of the wolves and all nature’s creatures, protector of the Dacians and right hand to the almighty god, Zamolxe

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Zamolxe (photo source)

Before the Great White Wolf, there was a man, a young man that in spite of his age had a long white beard and white hair. He wandered the land of Dacia, helping people and preaching the word of Zamolxe. He found shelter in a cave in the mountains where he enjoyed the love and respect of the animals. Out of all the creatures of the forest, the wolves where the ones that loved him the most. He taught the wolves to respect men and not attack them and their households. The man also taught the Dacians to care for the wolves and give them food while the wolves helped and fought with them in battle. Thus, man and wolf became brothers.

Zamolxe, knowing that danger was to come over Dacia he asked the white bearded man if, in exchange of immortality and a place by his side in the Sacred Mountain, he wants to become the leader of the wolves. Exchange that the white bearded man, out of loyalty and love for Dacia, gratefully accepted. Zamolxe turned him in the Great White Wolf. Together they watched over Dacia, Zamolxe as the leader of the people and the Great White Wolf as the leader of wolves.

For centuries their land was prosperous and peaceful but, as history showed us, it was not bound to last. The Romans were getting nearer and nearer and some of them managed to poison the mind of men against their brother wolves. So the Dacians started hunting them with the belief that, if they killed the Great White Wolf and brought its head to the Romans, their land would be spared a war.

The wolves, betrayed, retreated deeper into the forests and never came out. The Great White Wolf retreated alongside Zamolxe to the Sacred Mountain and watched how war and misery took over their land. The Dacians, having lost the loyalty of the wolves received no help from them during their battles with the Romans. This is how Dacia became a Roman province.

The other story is that the Romans outnumbered the Dacians because well, they were an empire with unlimited resources in comparison to Dacia. Also the Dacians were betrayed by their allies. But history is so much less interesting without legends and myths!

Now, what does the Great White Wolf have to do with Saint Andrew?

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The Great White Wolf (photo source)

After these lands embraced Christianity, of course the new holidays were laid upon the old ones to be easier accepted by the local population. So the day of the Great White Wolf became the day of Saint Andrew – the First Chosen, protector of animals and tamer of the wolves.

And from here there’s an enormous amount of superstitions, ghost stories and pagan rituals that combine with the orthodox celebration of Saint Andrew.

As I said before, this day was considered the start of a new year so the night before (the 29th/30th) is the clash of new and old, a night of chaos and terror: the Night of the Strigoi (Poltergeists).  

Romanian poltergeists are of two kind: the living and the dead ones. The living poltergeists are people born with a tail (an extra vertebra) or a caul, every third child born out of wedlock by the same woman or someone born out of incest. These people turn to living poltergeist on this night and in the morning they go back to their ordinary lives without ever knowing that they are poltergeists. The dead poltergeists...well, they are the spirits of people who died of a violent death, they were living poltergeists when they were alive or for some reason or another, they did not cross over.

So on the Night of the Poltergeists both living and dead poltergeists meet at crossroads and start to fight until dawn. If the dead poltergeists do not find any living poltergeists to fight with, they  hunt people and animals to drink their blood. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Romanian version of the Halloween! We sure know how to throw a party!

The best way to protect ourselves and our households of the dead poltergeists is: GARLIC. Lots and lots of it! To keep away evil creatures we have to smear garlic juice all over the door and window frames of our houses, stables and stalls. We have to eat as much garlic as possible and hang garlic by our beds. Children will be especially fed with food cooked with tones of garlic. Basically, there has to be garlic everywhere or we are doomed.

And if you thought it ends here, you are in for a surprise because we have a bunch of other very interesting traditions and rituals for Saint Andrew’s Day. It’s the night when young girls can have a glimpse of their predestined husband. All they have to do is to sleep with basil under their pillows and they will dream the man of their...dreams. There is also the hardcore version of the see-the predestined-husband ritual: the girl has to be naked between two mirrors at midnight holding two candles in her hand. In the mirror behind her she will see the man in question. (I am pretty sure everyone goes for the basil).

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photo source

It cannot be a proper wolf’s day without wolves so you need to know that on the eve of Saint Andrew’s Day wolves can speak with human voice. Also, if you get bitten by a wolf on this particular night you turn into a werewolf.

So what do you have to remember about the 30th of November in Romania: important religious holiday - Saint Andrew,Great White Wolf,  living and dead poltergeists, lots of garlic or you’re in trouble. Girls can see their future love or give themselves the scare of a lifetime by holding candles while naked at midnight between two mirrors.

featured image  photo source

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