How to have a Romanian Christmas

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      In Romania, Christmas and mid-winter celebrations last from 20th December to 7th January. The 20th is called ‘Ziua de Ignat’ or simply ‘Ignat Day’. It is traditional that if the family keep pigs, one is killed on this day by the head of the household. The meat from the pig is used in the Christmas meals. After the pig is killed, 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 polenta. The name ‘Ignat Day’ comes from the 20th is also the saint day of ‘Saint Ignatius of Antioch’ and also ‘Saint Ignatius, Archimandrite of the Kiev Caves’ in some churches.

      Christmas in Romania (Romanian: Crăciunul în România) is a major annual celebration, celebrated on 24/25 of December, as in most countries of the Christian world. The observance of Christmas was introduced once with the Christianization of Romania but it was then interrupted during the Communist period (1948—1989), as concepts as religion, Jesus Christ or the Church were banned. In the post-communist Romania, Christmas started being celebrated again more festively.

      The Christmas and holiday season starts officially on November 30, on Saint Andrew’s day and ends on January 7, with the celebration of Saint John. Other major holidays in this period are Great Union Day, Saint Nicholas’ Day, Saint Ignatius’ Day, Christmas Eve (Ajunul Craciunului in Romanian), Christmas Day (Craciun in Romanian), Saint Stephen’s day, New Year’s Eve (Revelion in Romanian), and the Epiphany.

      The celebration of Jesus’ birth is a moment of joy, warmth and love that gathers together the whole family on December 25 and 26. Yet, in Romania, the Christmas season starts long before that, with the Advent running from November 14 until Christmas Day. According to the Orthodox religion, during the Christmas Fast people should not eat meat or animal products, as part of a process of body purifying. Besides fasting, confession and the Holy Communion are part of a soul cleanse before Christmas.

      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 Craciunului’.

      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. The words of the Star Carol are:

      “The star has appeared on high,
      Like a big secret in the sky,
      The star is bright,
      May all your wishes turn out right.”

      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’).
      n 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 un-married men. 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 band will practice for about a month before Christmas so they are really good. The go round the streets and are given presents.

      In Romanian, Merry Christmas is ‘Crăciun Fericit’. Happy/Merry Christmas in lots more languages.

      In Romania 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 Gammon and Pork Chops (made from the killed pig!), ‘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 polenta; ‘Cozonac’ a rich fruit bread; Romanian doughnuts called ‘gogosi’ and cheesecakes.

      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.

      How Do Romanians Celebrate Christmas?

      On Christmas Eve’s evening, cheerful groups of children and young people get out in the streets to sing Christmas carols, telling the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, accompanied by wishes of health, good luck and love. In the villages, they go from house to house and each family rewards them with homemade cakes, fruits, and sometimes money. A special song is the Star Carol, accompanied by a star made of coloured paper, decorated with silver foil, tinsel, bells, and in the middle a picture of baby Jesus or the nativity scene.

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