Winter is coming, winter is near and with it a handful of Romanian winter holidays and traditions. For anyone visiting Romania during this time of the year, our holidays and traditions might come as intriguing as they are without a doubt, a combination between orthodox customs and ancient ,pre-christian folklore.
To bring a little light on the subject, I decided to write about our major winter holidays, what these simbolize and how we celebrate them.
1st of December – National Day
This is not a religious celebration in any way but it is our National Day so I couldn’t skip it. On the first of December we celebrate the coming into state of Romania. Before 1918 our borders did not look as they do today: Transylvania and Bukovina belonged to the Austrian – Hungarian Empire and Basarabia (now the Rep. of Moldova) was Russian soil.
After WW1 these territories united with the so called old kingdom to become Romania (WW2 and later on USSR brought more changes to the borders but that’s another story). On the 1st of December 1918, King Ferdinand and Queen Mary entered the Transylvanian town of Alba Iulia to be crowned as King and Queen of Great Romania.
I need to mention that during the time we were a kingdom our national day was the 10th of May – King’s Day and after the communist takeover the national day was the 23rd of August- marking the day when we, in 1944, turned away from the Axis to join forces with the Allies.
Coming back to the 1st of December- this day was decided to be our National Day after the Revolution so it’s rather new. Every year we complain that they picked the national day in mid winter. There were even some online petitions going on to have it changed to a more weather friendly day. But still, every year we end up freezing for three hours to see the military parade.
6th of December – Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas Day – the day when all the children clean their boots to get them ready for presents. That’s if they’ve been well behaved children! Naughty and disrespectful children might get a thin stick in their boots, sign that they deserve a little spanking.
The story of Saint Nicholas starts in the 4th century AD in a territory called Myra-Lichia (present day Turkish land) where he was a bishop. Nicholas of Myra was a very kind and giving man and did a great deal of good deeds towards the needy and poor. He came from a rich family and upon his parents death, he was the sole heir of the family’s wealth.
Legend talks about three sisters who couldn’t get married because they were too poor so their father wanted to sell them. When time came for the elder sister to get married, Saint Nicholas – who was still a bishop- left at their door a small bag of gold coins to be used as dowery for the girl. The same story repeated itself with the second sister. When time came for the youngest to get married, her father was so curious to see who is giving them the money that he stood guard to catch a glipmse of the good person. For you see, Saint Nicholas always dropped the money in the dark of the night, not wanting to be seen.
In that particular night, realising that he is being followed he took the litthe bag, climbed the roof of the house and dropped it down the horn. The bag fell into a stocking that was hanging from the fireplace.
Saint Nicholas asked the man most ardently not to tell his secret but the man did not keep his word and spread the news that Nicholas is the one parting gifts. From that day on, anyone who received a surprising gift believed it came from Saint Nicholas.
In Romania we do not have the tradition of hanging stockings by the fire place. We use boots instead. So every year, in the evening of the 5th of December, children clean their boots and put them either near a window or a door for Saint Nicholas to find them easily.
In Romanian traditions Saint Nicholas, being so close to Saint Andrew has a somewhat opposing purpose. If the holiday of Saint Andrew is connected to chaos and the end of a natural cycle, Saint Nicholas, portrayed on a white horse is the keeper of the Northern gate of heaven. He will not allow the Sun to escape to the Northern territory, leaving the world without light and warmth. He is the patron saint of widows, orphans and helps girls to get married. He is master of the sea and protects sailors from drowning and soldiers during battles.
What is the absolute present for Saint Nicholas Day? Oranges.