Today, on December 23rd, at the Romanian Language and Cultural Center there were celebrated winter traditions in Romanian style. The event was organized by the Romanian lecturer, Iosefina Blazsani-Batto.
The Romanian language students from the Faculty of International Relations and Regional Studies, ADU, Baku, learned in a joyful way how to sing a carol, how to decorate a sorcova, and they tasted traditional dishes like sarmale, mămăligă. The traditional Christmas sweets, cozonac, were prepared by a team of Romanians from the Baku community and a graduate of the first batch of Romanian language students, Seda Mammadli. They also had the pleasure to enjoy traditional old carols sang live from Romania on zoom by a popular artist, Ana Radu. They also had brief presentations about the winter traditions in Romania, and exchanged gifts under the decorated Christmas tree.
If we want to know more about winter traditions, it is meaningful to say that we witness the most beautiful Romanian traditions. Just like anywhere else in the Christian world, Christmas in Romania is celebrated on December 24-25. But the winter holiday season is much richer in traditions and customs that last since ancient times. Here there is a brief presentation of them.
St. Nicholas (Mos Niculae)
The Christmas season in Romania is kicked off by the arrival of St.Nicholas (Mos Niculae) on December 6. This is one of the most awaited Christmas traditions in Romania for the children. On this night they know they will receive small gifts in their boots from St. Nicholas. But only if they were good! Otherwise, instead of presents they will receive a stick!
Christmas Fasting (Postul Crāciunului)
The Christmas Fasting for the Eastern Orthodox Romanian starts on November 14 and ends on Christmas Day. During this 40-day period people prepare themselves to properly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. This preparation includes fasting, confessing and Holy Communion.
The pig sacrifice on Christmas (Tăierea Porcului)
Pork meat is the main ingredient for Christmas meals, but this is only half the story. In almost all the mythologies of the world, fire represents the projection of the Sun on the earth and the animals ritually sacrificed during the solar holidays are the zoomorphic incarnations of the revered star. The name of the celebrated holiday comes from the Latin „ignis”, where it means fire. Weakened by the effort of the year, the Sun needs life, blood, and the moment when the archaic man thought of intervening to save him, was near the winter solstice, when it shines the least. For Romanians, the day on which this ancient ritual was grounded is called the Ignatian Pigs or the Swimmer. And the slaughtered animal is the pig. Therefore, killing the pig is a contemporary reenactment of pagan sacrifices and is a big part of the winter Romanian traditions in the countryside.
Decorating the Christmas Tree
Romanians usually buy their Christmas tree just a couple of days before Christmas and they decorated together, as a family, on Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree stays in the house till January 7. The first Christmas tree that was decorated in Romania was at the court of King Carol I, in 1866, with the arrival of the Hohenzollern dynasty in the Romania. The tradition was immediately taken over by the Bucharest nobility of the time, so that, starting from that year, the decorated Christmas tree became one of the most important symbols of Christmas.
Christmas Eve (Ajunul Crăciunului)
Christmas Eve is the most anticipated day of the year in Romania. It’s the night when Santa Claus (Mos Craciun) arrives at every house carrying his big bag of presents. Very few children in Romania manage to sleep that night hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa as he places the packages under the Tree.
Romanian Christmas Carols (Colinde)
But by far the most popular Romanian Christmas tradition is Christmas Caroling. Romanian Christmas carols are tunes with themes varying according to their region of origin. While some of the carols focus on telling the story of the Birth of Jesus Christ, many of them are blessings to those that open their doors to the carol singers, to their families, future crops, and others are wishes of good luck, health, and love in the new year.
Food is probably the main part of any holiday in Romania. Preparation begins with pig slaughtering when a good part of the animal is turned into smoked ham, bacon, sausages, liver sausage, pig’s trotter, and other bizarre and delicious Romanian dishes, whose names are sometimes hard to translate.
On Christmas Eve, women make sarmale (delicious meat-and-rice rolls wrapped in cabbage/sauerkraut, served with polenta, hot pepper, and sour cream) and bake cozonaci, a sort of sponge cake with nuts, cocoa, and Turkish delights. Traditional Romanian Christmas foods also include Roast Gammon and Pork Chops, ‘Ciorba de perisoare’ which is a slightly sour vegetable soup made with fermented bran and pork meatballs and Romanian doughnuts called ‘gogosi’ and cheesecakes.
Mask dances on Christmas and New Year
Mask dances are the most colorful part of winter celebrations in Romania. These dances are performed usually by men costumed in goats, bears, and horses. Symbolically, they are a reenactment of agrarian practices and superstitions. The rituals have a well-established plot, Good versus Evil or humans versus nature, all on the rapid rhythm of loud drums. Such an example is the Goat (Capra). Men and boys with drums and brass instruments wander through villages playing their traditional music, as one man – dressed in a stylized goat costume – performs a sort of goat dance.
New Year’s Eve is also an important celebration in Romania. 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.
“Sorcova” is a special bouquet used for New Year’s wishes early New Year’s morning. Children wish people a “Happy New Year!” while touching them lightly with this bouquet. After they have wished a Happy New Year to the members of their family, the children go to the neighbors and relatives. Traditionally, the “Sorcova” bouquet was made up of one or several fruit – tree twigs (apple-tree, pear-tree, cherry-tree, plum-tree); all of them are put into water, in warm place, on November 30th (St. Andrew’s Day), in order to bud and to blossom on New Year’s Eve. Nowadays people often use an apple-tree or pear-tree twig decorated with flowers made up of colored paper and the Romanian Language students, ADU, Baku, did that too today, when celebrating winter traditions.