In Romania, the Christmas and mid-winter celebrations last from December 20 to January 7.
The 20th is when people celebrate St. Ignatius Day. It is traditional that if the family raises pigs, one dies on this day. Pork meat is used in Christmas meals.
The day of Sfantul Nicolae (San Nicolás) is celebrated on December 6. On the afternoon of December 5, the children clean their shoes or boots, leave them at the door and wait for Sfantul Nicolae to leave them some small gifts. Sfantul Nicolae could also be called ‘Moş Nicolae’ (Old Man Nicholas) and, although it is celebrated in December, it is not part of the Christmas celebrations! A tradition says that if it snows on December 6, Sfantul Nicolae has shaken his beard so that winter can begin.
The Christmas celebrations really start on Christmas Eve, 24, when it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree. This is done on Christmas Eve night. In Romanian, Christmas Eve is called ‘Ajunul Craciunului‘.
Carol sing (known as ‘Colindatul‘) is also a very popular part of Christmas in Romania. On Christmas Eve, the children go out to sing Christmas carols from house to house to the adults in the houses. Usually they also dance. The children receive sweets, fruits, traditional cakes called ‘cozonaci’ and, sometimes, money to sing well. Adults sing Christmas carols on Christmas day, afternoon and evening.
A traditional Romanian carol is the ‘carol estelar’. The star, made of colored paper and often decorated with mesh, silver foil and, sometimes, bells, is placed on a stick. In the middle of the star there is an image of the baby Jesus or a scene of the nativity. The singers of Carol take the star when they are singing Christmas carols. The words of the star carol are:
“The star has appeared on high,
Like a great secret in heaven.
The star is bright,
May all your wishes go well. “
Other popular carols to sing include ‘Oh, What Wondrous Tidings’ (‘O, ce veste minunata’) and ‘Three Wise Men from the East’ (‘Trei Crai de la rasarit’).
In many parts of Romania, it is also traditional for someone to dress like a goat, wearing a multicolored mask, and go with the carol singers. The goat is known as the ‘Capra’ and jumps and dances around doing many mischief.
Another tradition of Christmas Eve is a drum band or “dubasi”. It is usually made up of unmarried men. A band can have up to 50 or 60 men in it! In addition to the drums there is often a saxophone and a violin. The band will practice for about a month before Christmas, so they are really good. They walk the streets and give gifts.
In Romanian, Merry Christmas is ‘Crăciun Fericit’.
In Romania, Santa Claus is known as ‘Moş Crăciun’ (Old Man Christmas) and ‘Moş Gerilă’ (Old Man Frost).
Traditional Romanian Christmas foods include grilled chops and pork chops (made with the dead pork!), The ‘Ciorba de perisoare’, which is a slightly acidic vegetable soup made with fermented bran and pork dumplings; Cabbage leaves ‘Sarmale’ stuffed with ground pork and served with polenta; ‘Cozonac’ a rich fruit bread; Romanian donuts called ‘gogosi’ and cheese cakes.
New Year’s Eve is also an important celebration in Romania. Sometimes it’s called Little Christmas. Traditionally, a small decorated plow called “Plugusorul” is paraded through the streets on New Year’s Eve. It is intended to help people to have good harvests during the following year.
On New Year’s Day, children wish people a Happy New Year while carrying a special bouquet called “Sorcova”. Traditionally, the Sorcova was made of twigs from one or more fruit trees such as apple, pear, cherry or plum. They are put in water in a warm place on November 30, so let’s hope they come to bloom on New Year’s Eve! Nowadays, a twig of an apple or pear tree is often used and decorated with flowers made of colored paper.