It's not long before Christmas is upon us so it's time for the second part of Romanian winter holidays and traditions 1:1. To read about the traditions that start the season go check part I. Without further ado:
24th,25th , 26th of December – Christimas Eve and Christmas Days
Romania is an Orthodox country but not old rite Orthodox therefore we celebrate Christmas with the rest of the Christian world on the 25th of December.
Traditions connected to Christmas are many and usually vary from one region of the country to another so I’m going to stick to the ones that are best known and generally embraced.
First, Christmas Eve is usually a day when everyone is rounding up all the preparation needed for Christmas: traditional ginger bread is baked, the house is getting a last good scrub, children are decorating the Christmas tree. In the evening, everything should be in its place and people ready to receive carol singers in their homes. The most popular carol is the called 'Steaua' (English: The Star) where people holding a big star go from home to home to announce the birth of Jesus.
What do we eat for Christmas? Pork. A lot of pork cooked in various ways: sausages, cabbage rolls, sour soup, pork in jelly, roast and a lot of types of cold appetizers, also from pork, that I have no idea how to call them in English. So, basically, a typical Romanian Christmas meal (lunch or dinner or lunch which turns into dinner eventually) looks like this: platters of appetizers, sour soup, cabbage rolls, roast and sausages served with baked potatoes, cake and after that cookies. No, I am not joking! This is how we eat for Christmas. It’s no wonder that the emergency rooms are full of people who over-ate during winter holidays.
On the 25th of December some people go to Christmas mass others just stay home and spend a nice time with their families. Not a lot of people entertain on the 25th. Receiving guests is an activity for the 26th of December when relatives, godparents and close friends come over for lunch/dinner. And so the party continues!
27th of December – Saint Stephan Day
Technically, it’s the third day of Christmas but it is also the day when the Orthodox celebrate Saint Stephan so it’s time for everyone called Stephan to receive guests for dinner. What did you think? That we were done with eating?
Stephan is also named the first deacon and the first martyr so he is quite a big saint in the Orthodox faith. The name itself, Stephan is of Greek origin and it means crown or garland.
31st of December / 1st of January New Years Eve and New Years Day
Dearest my, the celebration of the New Year in Romania is full of food, traditions and superstitions. Food because we eat more or less like we eat for Christmas, which is a lot of pork.
The traditions are plenty and some of them very interesting. And since there cannot be a celebration without a patron saint, on the 1st of January we have Saint Vasile, protector against evil spirits.
We have a popular traditional carol for the first day of the new year called `Sorcova` - it’s more of a wishing song with children going from house to house and wishing to anyone who opens the door for them, a good and rich new year and a long and healthy life. The `Sorcova` - the symbol of spring is an object traditionally made from a stick that came from a fruit tree like apple or plum-tree and decorated with wool, tinsel and mistletoe. Now, most of the `Sorcovas` are just regular sticks decorated with paper flowers. A bit kitschy but nonetheless colorful and cheery.
Caroling for New Year's is a century old tradition with religious carols being mixed up with ancient pagan songs. The singers are dressed up in traditional clothes and wish happiness, health and prosperity to their hosts. Out of the pagan songs, the most popular are the dances of the goat, the bear or the horses. It is tradition to serve carollers with nuts, apples, palinka and ginger bread.
And now for the superstitions: it’s good to drink a lot of red wine on the 1st of January because then your chicks will be red and healthy the entire year. Depending on what kind of guests you receive on the 1st of January, that is how you are going to be in the new year: wealthy or poor. It’s good to make a new wish for the following year but it’s bad to be upset or angry. To have peace in your family it’s good to boil a pig's head on the 1st of January (I honestly believe that a lot of us risk the well-being of our family to skip this superstition).
Also the weather is a good indicator of how the next year is going to be: if it’s freezing outside and you can see ice stars on the snow then it’s a good sign and a sign that there will be a lot of new weddings in the new year. If it snows, it’s a sign of wealth. If it is cold and sunny, then everybody is going to be in good health. If the night of the New Years Eve is sunny and starry then the new year is going to be a good one.
6th of January – The Twelfth Day or the Epiphany
Religious holiday that celebrates the baptism of Christ in the river Jordan and the holiday that closes the cycle of the winter holidays. Well, part of them anyway.
It’s a day celebrated by both orthodox and catholic beliefs. However, we have added a little extra that comes down from our pagan ancestors.
Besides it’s religious meaning, this is a day when priests bless all the waters. The ritual consists of a mass to bless the water and then the priest throws a cross into the water for men to retrieve. The winner will be lucky the entire following year. Being the 6th of January you can imagine the temperatures of the waters...
Another weird ritual involving women this time, takes place in the Northern part of Romania. All the women from a village throw a night long party and then in the morning they start running in the streets, catch the men that come in their way, take them to the nearby river by force and threaten to throw them in the river. I haven’t heard of anyone actually partaking in such a ritual, but if you know please share it with us!
The most common superstition for the Twelfth Day is that unmarried women can dream their intended. The ritual is rather different from the creepy one on Saint Andrew’s Day. We only have to tie a red string and mistletoe to our ring finger and put some mistletoe under our pillow and voila! The next day the mystery of our love is solved. Also if an unmarried woman slips and falls on ice on the Twelfth Day then she is sure to marry that year.
And this is it with Romanian winter holidays for now. I’ll be back somewhere in January with part III so stay tuned!
I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I will leave you with a video of a mask parade from a village in Bukovina.
And don't forget: if you have any questions or you want to share your Romanian experience or talk to other people interested in Romania and travelling to Romania, join the Roaring Romania Facebook group.