In Romania, Christmas and mid-winter celebrations last from 20th December to 7th January. The 20th is called ‘Ziua de Ignat’. In the countryside,this day is traditionally the day when the head of the household and other members of the family sacrificed a pig. The meat from the pig is used in the Christmas meals. The family members share a dish called ‘Pomana Porcului’ (Pork’s Charity) which is traditionally cooked in a cauldron and consists of a variety of pork bits (pork belly, shoulder, liver, kidneys, etc.) in a garlic sauce and served with mămăligă (polenta).
Sfantul Nicolae’s Day (St Nicholas) is celebrated on the 6th December. On the evening of the 5th December children clean their shoes or boots and leave them by the door and hope that Sfantul Nicolae will leave them some small presents! Sfantul Nicolae might also be called ‘Moş Nicolae’ (Old Man Nicholas) and although he is celebrated in December, it’s not part of the Christmas celebrations! A tradition says that if it snows on December 6th, Sfantul Nicolae has shaken his beard so that winter can begin.
The Christmas celebrations really begin on Christmas Eve, 24th, when it’s time to decorate the Christmas Tree. This is done in the evening of Christmas Eve. In Romanian, Christmas Eve is called ‘Ajunul Crăciunului’.
Carol singing (known as ‘Colindatul’) is also a very popular part of Christmas in Romania. On Christmas Eve, children go out carol singing from house to house performing to the adults in the houses. They normally dance as well. The children get sweets, fruit, traditional cakes called ‘cozonaci’ and sometimes money for singing well. Adults go carol singing on Christmas Day evening and night.
A traditional Romanian Carol is the ‘Star Carol’. The star, made of colored paper and often decorated with tinsel, silver foil and sometimes bells, is put on a pole. In the middle of the star is a picture of baby Jesus or a nativity scene. Carol singers take the star with them when they go carol singing.
Other popular carols to sing include ‘Oh, What Wondrous Tidings’ (‘O, ce veste minunata’) and ‘Three Wise Men coming from the East’ (‘Trei Crai de la rasarit’).
In many parts of Romania, it’s also traditional that someone dresses up as a goat, with a multicolored mask, and goes round with the carol singers. The goat is known as the ‘Capra’ and it jumps and dances around getting up to lots of mischief!
Another Christmas Eve tradition is a drumming band or ‘dubasi’. This is normally made up of bachelors. A band can have up to 50 or 60 men in it! As well as the drums there’s often a saxophone and violin. The go round the streets and are given presents.
In Romanian, Merry Christmas is ‘Crăciun Fericit’. Santa Claus is known as ‘Moş Crăciun’ (Old Man Christmas). During the time the country was under communist control, the gift bringer was ‘Moş Gerilă’ (Old Man Frost) but Moş Crăciun is the main gift bringer now!
Traditional Romanian Christmas foods include roast pork, ‘ciorba de perisoare’ which is a slightly sour vegetable soup made with fermented bran and pork meatballs; ‘sarmale’ cabbage leaves stuffed with ground pork and served with mămăligă/polenta; ‘Cozonac’ a rich cocoa or Turkish delight bread; “răcituri” meat aspic made with meat parts, usually pork or chicken.
New Year’s Eve is also an important celebration in Romania. It’s sometimes called Little Christmas. Traditionally a small, decorated plough called a ‘Plugusorul’ is paraded through the streets on New Year’s Eve. It is meant to help people have good crops during the following year.
On New Year’s Day, children wish people a Happy New Year while carrying around a special bouquet called a ‘Sorcova’. Traditionally, the Sorcova was made of twigs from one or more fruit trees like apple, pear, cherry or plum. They’re put into water in a warm place on 30th November, so they hopefully come into leaf and blossom on New Year’s Eve! Nowadays often a single twig of an apple or pear tree is used and it’s decorated with flowers made from colored paper.
Romanian winter celebrations are fascinating and deeply rooted in the history and culture of the Romanian people. If you ever visit Romania in the winter, make sure you taste the delicious traditional foods and enjoy the unique traditions.