It is winter time over Romania. Through the curtain of white flakes, the shadows of snowy hills show the villages standing still. Only the wood-smelling smoke breaks into the serenity of the rural sky.
Somewhere on the countryside, by the stove, children gather together around the fireplace. Women of community weave large woolen-carpets. Logs burn easily with a crunching noise. It is story time, that time of complete feeling belonging to special traditions and community. It is winter time, the time of joy and celebration, the time for young and old, child and mature, man and woman to hear and say “once upon a time…” It is mid-November and once with Christmas fasting, the cold weather announces the approaching greetings season. The rumor will grow higher and higher, more and more joyful and this is how it starts…
“Knock, knock” “Who’s there?” “It’s us, folks!” the group of carol singers of the village say. In Romania, winter celebration lasts more than Christmas period and from the very young to the old-wise man of the village, everybody takes part in this fervent unique, yearly developed, cultural expression.
If we were to place Romanian traditions into a shelter, under a tag, “authentic” would best describe it. It is a mixture between rough-pagan and peaceful Christian traditions, it is about both masked-acerbic rituals and dances and also serene-symphony like season Carols. It is fervent, it happens everywhere, indoor or outdoor, and involves everyone.
It is Saint Nicholas Day!
Romanian villagers name Saint Nicholas “San-Nicoara” and believe that he is the saint who guards the Sun, not to run away with its heat. By this day, people of the countryside gather to rehearse the Christmas Romanian Carols and every year a different family hosts the assembly.
The band of young men going from gate to gate it is sacred, and as there is no door to remain closed, since the rehearsal is a must every year.
In some other villages across Romania, girls bake pies and at 9 o’clock sharp, boys burst into the house and the party begins. Children bring fruit tree rams and place them into the water till Saint Basil (Sfantul Vasile), the first day of the new year – if it flourishes, this is definitely a sign for a rich agricultural year to begin!
Ignatius – day of Sacrifice, fasting, feasting and revival
There is no more intriguing celebration across winter, than Ignatius! Bearing the name of a solar divinity, Ignatius is a day of sacrifice and still celebration.
On December 20th, early in the morning, the entire village is up. It is sacrifice day. The pig grown on the courtyard for the entire year will be sacrificed for the sun’s sake. It used to be a celebration of solstice, as spirit of revival, like the meaning of pig once.
People in the villages sacrifice the pig they took care and fed the entire year in a natural, Romanian way, and cook all sorts of goodies that are to be served on Christmas days. Lard, sausages, bacon and a long list of food that has no equivalent in other countries are prepared for winter and Christmas, feasting day. Rural population, most of them deep believers, fast from November and Christmas and still cook the pig meat in their specific way without tasting it in a spirit of sacrifice.
The masks – magical dance on the street as a symbol of agricultural abundance
Once with Ignatius, in some regions of Romania Capra (The goat) band goes the street dancing, gesturing and singing the ritual of joy. You can meet the big masks symbolizing the goat all over Romania between Christmas and New Year Eve in less shy way. The masked group, always accompanied by a band playing instruments like accordions or drums, revives the streets of cities and villages in a colorful and joyful sound and image.
And if you imagine uniformity, then you will be surprised! The goat mask is replaced by a deer in north of Transylvania or by a bison in south, or a goat or sheep in Moldavia. The variety of masks in Romania is so large, colorful and surprising that Neculai Popa, gathered in 12 rooms of a traditional, authentic museum, masks from all over Romania from goat to bears in all sizes and nuances.
The goat ritual is amazing and scary as performance, still attracting locals and tourists at once. The stumbling, dancing, tossing and turning of the goat, the jaw clanging of the mask is performed since ancestral period as a symbol of death and revival which surprises and represents the Romanian spirit: the continuous living soul.
Christmas Eve, carols’ time
The true Carols happen on Christmas Eve.
In rural Romania, there are separated groups of carolers. First, the younger representatives of the community bear their big hats and small feet on the snowy rural alleys, knocking from door to door and singing with their high voices. The hosts give them nuts and apples as a sign of reward and wealth.
After they sang to every doorstep, the young lads start their carol journey. The repertoire is graver, so is the voice. They follow the step of the children carolers, singing religious songs dedicated to Birth of Jesus.
When everybody in the village received their greetings, the group ensembles for the party, with good food that the housewife attentively and traditionally prepared.
Small and big plough, young and mature. Carols as ritual for richer crops
And if you believed that season greetings is over, then once again you will have a surprise! Bands of children and mature, kids and lads, walk from door to door singing Plugusorul (the plough). Small or big, as the age and size of the carolers, the plough is rather an incantation for good crops and rich year. Boys or young man, swish a cart whip in the air, swing a bell in a pleasant noisy spectacle.
The Star – Christmas tradition
Between Christmas and 6th of January (Boboteaza) the children sing “The Star” a Christian song announcing the birth of Jesus. It is the story of three Magus and their journey until they find the Child. What is special about Romanian Christian Star?
Romanian are Orthodox and incanting rituals and religious songs come from Byzantium Church and the incantation-like of carols are kept even today in both carols and church service as a continuous development of traditions.
Sorcova-Vesela – children’s joy, hosts cheerfulness
Hardly the clock sounds midnight, showing the coming of the New Year when children start going “sorcova”. Once, sorcova used to be a ram of fruit tree decorated in red, nowadays is a flower arrangement, beautiful colored.
Children sing a song wishing for joy and all the motifs are chosen from nature. “Cheerful like an apple tree, like pear-tree, like rose ram, tough as stone… ” In Romanian sounds beautiful as the pure thought of the children manifesting their joy in the first day of the year.
The year shows good signs of joy and cheerfulness. The ancestral rituals invoke nature for Romanian’s better life and locals join nature in its spirit. There is that connection that you can find everywhere in traditional Romania: nature connects with people.
Romanian Carols – a bucket of unique flowers
Romanian folklorists gathered a bunch of the most beautiful traditions and carols. Grigore Lese’s collection and traditional folklore is appraised worldwide and even if people do not understand the words they feel the message that tune and inflections of their voice.
Music and local carols as a message that crosses the world of the soul can be captured in the famous Romanian’s soprano voice, Angela Gheorghiu. The Christmas carols of Transylvanian Stefan Hrusca sound over the sky every winter. It announces that it is time. The time of belief, the time of celebration.
The winter falls over the village. The song of carolers echoes in the sky. The image of ancestral traditions follows Romanian nation yearly. An image far away from modernity and commercial celebration. An icon of authenticity that we all should praise or at least enjoy.