Starting December 6th, the feast day of Saint Nicholas, and until January 6th, the day when we celebrate the Epiphany, winter holidays are in full swing
Starting December 6th, the feast day of Saint Nicholas, and
until January 6th, the day when we celebrate the Epiphany, winter
holidays are in full swing. In the past, people used to organize handicraft
evening sittings where householders would spin wool and knit warm woolen or
hemp clothing for the family members and would tell stories on the latest
gossip in the village. They would eat boiled corn grains, dried fruit, nuts and
other relishes the host had prepared on that occasion. On that day
carol-singers start making Christmas arrangements. This is when lads' groups
assemble, when masks are made and carols are sung. In traditional villages, it
is a time when people start tidying their homes and prepare to cook pork meals.
Pigs are slaughtered on a special day, called Ignat, and the meat is used to
make sausages, black pudding, haggis, "sarmale" (mincemeat cabbage rolls) and
pork steaks that people cook in large earthen pots on Christmas Eve.
The large snowflakes, the scented smell of freshly-baked pound cake,
white-bearded Santa Claus and carolers' voices echoing in the village, all
these add up to the fairy-tale atmosphere setting in around Christmas time. Starting
on Christmas Eve, children bearing sleigh-bells and whips start caroling,
enlivening the entire village. According to tradition, it is bad omen not to
welcome them, since they bring the blessed news of our Lord's birth and ward
off evil by the flick of their whips. Until late into the night, villages hum
with carol tunes. Carol-singers are often rewarded with nuts, knot-shaped
bread, apples and, nowadays, money.
Northern Bukovina is well-known for keeping tradition alive concerning
Christmas Eve rituals. 12 plates with 12 fasting dishes are placed on a table,
which in Bukovina is usually square. A
fish is placed between the 12 dishes as a symbol of Christ. Next the family
enacts a ritual about the marriage of earth and sky. A round-shaped bread is
placed in the middle of the table, standing for the Sun and the Moon, next to a
candle representing the pillar of the sky.
This is followed by a special ceremony: the eldest member of the family
exits the house carrying a tray with 12 spoons and one of each of the 12 food
types, the round-shaped bread and the candle. He circles the house, stopping by
each corner to conjure the spirit of the rain to come in due time and
reasonable quantity, so that the earth can bear fruit again. The food is then given
to the cattle, while the man of the house goes in and places the bread and the
candle on the table.
Then, the entire family says Our Lord's Prayer and thanks God for
blessing them with another year of happiness and for allowing all of them to be
there, since all the relatives get together at Christmas. Only then do they sit
down at the table. However they don't eat until they remember all those
Even today, it is believed that on December 24th, the
spirits of the dead come back to life and they have to eat and drink. For this
reason, once the Christmas Eve meal is ceremoniously concluded, all the
leftovers are gathered on a big platter and are left by the window along with a
cup of water until the Epiphany Eve, when they are either given to the cattle
or thrown away in a river or spring.
On Christmas morning, the first who
wake up are the children who rush into finding the presents Santa has left for
them under the Christmas tree. On Christmas Day people sing carols on the
Bethlehem narrative in the Bible or enact Nativity episodes from the Bible.
Performances are often followed by a symbolic clash between the old year and
the new one, which concludes in the form of a wishing ceremony.
The star boys' singing procession is
another custom performed by children in all areas of the country to commemorate
the star announcing the birth of our Lord. The star boys are children or young
boys clad in traditional costumes with multicolored ribbons, sometimes wearing
wizards' hats bearing Biblical names. The carolers' reward is all the more
generous as the carol itself is more touching. The boys are given a big bread
roll, bacon and sausages; the food is collected by the "Baggers". The food is
then used at another youth celebration, named "the beer", on the second day of
Christmas. To prepare that, the lads place barley or oat somewhere to sprout,
well in advance, and then make the "beer", a drink they would have for the
In the Apuseni Mountains, boys go
caroling with a fiddler, and visit the houses of eligible girls. In the Mures
region the custom of the drums is widespread; these are a sort of drums made of
animal skin. Householders receive the drummers with a lot of respect and joy,
welcoming them to carol and sing in every house. The boys' group is the
best-known group of carolers in Fagaras Country.
The boys group custom unfolds
according to a well-designed pattern, handed down from generation to
generation; first, the group is formed on Sanicoara's Day, then the host is
chosen, as well as the hierarchy, the key positions being those of the great
bailiff, of the small bailiff, of those responsible with taking the girls out
to dance; then there are the boys who play an administrative role (the publican
tending to the drinks, the cashier, who collects the pay and the gifts for the
fiddlers, while the flag keeper tends to the flag - the group's most precious
object). In the villages across Brasov County there are three types of boys'
groups: boys' groups with flags, typical for villages at the foot of the
mountain, then there are the boys' groups with tip-cats, and boys' groups with
clubs, which speaks about the archaic initiation kit.
The flag is usually made of two
vividly colored headscarves, which are tied to a stick 1 to 2 meters long,
wrapped up around sticks with a cross at the top, as well as various other
adornments. When the group is caroling, the flag is pinned either at the loft
of the host's home, or at the gates, and is hoisted on a very long stick. Those
who are not part of the group have the right to "steal" the flag, and if they
can do that, the group needs to take it back by paying for so much drink as the
thieves ask for (usually about 10 to 20 litres of wine) and the boys' group is
usually put to shame if their flag is stolen.
The Bistrita region also preserves
old customs and traditions. On Christmas Night, kids' teams are formed:
hobbyhorse dancers, Turks, green stars, Herods, who go caroling around the
village. The caroling starts from both ends of the village and when teams
travel halfway through, a big round dance is formed. Then the elders get ready,
they also split in groups and first carol their neighbors, their friends, and
then their distant relatives. One to three people join the group at every house
that receives the carolers, and in the end, at daybreak, they sing a carol
called The day dawny-dawn. Then they go home, change clothes and go to
church, attend Mass, and after that, they sing the carol "O, hear the glad
tidings", in the church yard. Then they come home, make merry, and the
following evening they visit the relatives they did not get round to visiting
the first day. That's how people used to spend their holidays a long time ago,
and that the custom has endured to this day.
In some villages in Moldavia there is
also the belief that the heavens open on Christmas Night. Nowadays, festivals
are organized around Christmas, re-enacting habits and customs, which are still
preserved in the Romanian traditional village.