Romanian Christmas Traditions
From lovely groups of children singing carols from door to door to mouth-watering dishes and various eccentric habits, the homeland of Dracula and other cool things you’ve probably never heard of is kind of a truly amazing place to spend Christmas. Some of these customs and traditions are old, unusual and authentic, others borrowed from overseas, but together they dress up Romania in bright holiday clothes, offering it an identity and a special charm.
Christmas lights in Transylvanian city of Cluj
Christmas season in Romania starts with a series of wonderful celebrations right after Sf.Andrei (Saint Andrew’s Day on November 30), when according to the local legends, vampires and evil spirits come to light. Other major holidays taking place during the Advent include Romania’s National Day on December 1st. Especially appreciated among children, St. Nicholas is celebrated on December 6th with great joy and plenty of gifts. On Saint Nicholas’ Eve all the children clean their boots, place them at the door and go to sleep waiting for Mos Nicolae to fill them with gifts. In the morning, the most obedient of them will discover lots of sweets tucked into their shoes, while the naughty ones will only find the symbolic rod.
Boots filled with goodies by Mos Nicolae at night
Romanians are religious people and they usually practice fasting throughout the year, each Monday and Friday, by abstaining from eating animal products. The Christmas fast begins on November 14th and ends on December 24th . According to the Orthodox religion, during these 40 days preceding Christmas, no one will eat meat, eggs and milk.
The generous pig carefully prepared by country people without losing anything
While food is usually the main part of any holiday in Romania, Christmas in particular is a true feast for the senses.
Preparation of Christmas meals begins with pig slaughtering when a good part of the poor animal is turned into smoked ham, bacon, sausages, liver sausage and other goodies whose names are untranslatable.
Pig slaughter is not actually that kind of national custom that one might be proud of, but is a long-lasting Christmas tradition in Romania. Each year, on Ignat Day (St.Ignatius), December 20th, Romanian families, especially those in the countryside sacrifice their pig in order to have a rich meal for Christmas. It sounds cruel, and it actually is, but behind this horror there’s a very complex ceremony which has been part of the local customs for as long as history can record. It starts early in the morning with the killing itself and continues with a series of proceedings through which all the meat is carefully prepared. From the fat melting to the preparation of sausages, one thing is for sure –Romanians really know how to cook the entire pig, without losing anything.
Christmas tree in a Romanian house
Other Christmas traditions and customs in Romania comprise the decorating of the Christmas Tree by the whole family a couple of days before Christmas and the arrival of Santa Claus with its bag full of gifts on Christmas Eve, which replaced in Romania like everywhere else, where secular Christmas traditions are held, the true Gift of God to mankind, the child Jesus, God’s Son born in this world, so that whoever receives Him in faith, receives eternal life.
Besides the decorating of each city with millions of glowing lights and of course, the Bio Christmas Markets sprinkled all over the country, probably the best part of a Romanian Christmas is the magical carols that can be heard all over the country during this wonderful time of the year, from the paths of the most remote villages to the classiest venues in the capital. Romanian carols are far from being just simple Christmas songs. They usually come together with rituals, special costumes, even short theatrical performances: Steaua, Capra and Plugusorul. Romanian Christmas carols, whether religious songs, pure folklore or theatrical performances, are all wonderful.
Christmas carols and costumes in Romania
In Romania, Christmas has always been a great opportunity for family members to get together and spend some time in the warm, loving and cozy atmosphere of their home. During Christmas, most of Romanian houses are filled with neighbors, relatives and good will when everyone giggles, cooks and tells stories, not to mention the carol singers constantly knocking at the door.
On Christmas Eve, women make sarmale served with polenta / mamaliga) and bake cozonaci, a sort of sponge cake with nuts and cocoa, similar to the Italian panetone.
Despite all financial problems, Christmas dinner is always a rich, multi-course meal with roast pork, pickled vegetables, the delicious boeuf salad, home-made wine and plum brandy, as well as various fancy cakes.
“Christmas can feel like a lot of work, particularly for mothers. But when you look back on all the Christmases in your life, you’ll find you’ve created family traditions and lasting memories. Those memories, good and bad, are really what help to keep a family together over the long haul.” (Caroline Kennedy).
Romania is located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea. Romania shares a border with Hungary and Serbia to the west, Ukraine and Moldova to the northeast and east, and Bulgaria to the south.
Is the ninth largest country of the European Union by area and has almost 20 million people. Its capital and largest city is Bucharest, the sixth largest city in the EU with about two million people.
Allow us to give you some reasons to visit our country
The Danube is the second largest river delta in Europe, after the Volga Delta. The Danube Delta represents a very favorable place for the development of highly diverse flora and fauna, unique in Europe, with numerous rare species. There are over 320 species of birds found in the delta during summer.
The Sphinx is a natural rock formation in the Bucegi Mountains in Romania. It is located at an altitude of 2216 m. The first photo of the Great Bucegi Sfinx was probably taken in about the year 1900. The image of the sphinx appeared when the rock, having an 8 m height, was watched from a certain angle. This structure is not man-made structure.
Romania has a lot of castles, but the most important ones are Bran Castel and Peles Castel, nearby to Bucharest.
Bran Castle (Romanian: Castelul Bran; German: Törzburg; Hungarian: Törcsvár), situated near Bran and in the immediate vicinity of Braşov, is a national monument and landmark in Romania. Commonly known as „Dracula’s Castle” it is marketed as the home of the titular character in Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. There is, however, no evidence that Stoker knew anything about this castle, which has only tangential associations with Vlad III, voivode of Wallachia, the putative inspiration for Dracula. The castle is now a museum open to tourists, displaying art and furniture collected by Queen Marie. Tourists can see the interior individually or by a guided tour. At the bottom of the hill is a small open air museum park exhibiting traditional Romanian peasant structures (cottages, barns, etc.) from across the country.
Peles Castle is a Neo-Renaissance castle in the Carpathian Mountains, near Sinaia, in
Prahova County, Romania, on an existing medieval route linking Transylvania and Wallachia, built between 1873 and 1914. Its inauguration was held in 1883. Of the 168 rooms in the castle, only 35 are accessible to the public. Only the museum in the basement and the rooms on the first floor can be visited.
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. We have a lot of turistic resorts, Mamaia is the most notorious.
Mărțișor is an old Romanian celebration at the beginning of spring, on March the 1st, which according to old calendar was also considered as the beginning of the new year. Symbolically, it is correlated to women and to fertility as a means of life and continuity. The tradition is authentic in Romania. Mărțișor, marţ and mărțiguș are all names for the red and white string from which a small decoration is tied, and which is offered by people on the 1st day of March. In modern times, and especially in urban areas, the Mărțișor lost most of its talisman properties and became more of a symbol of friendship or love, appreciation and respect.
Dragobete is a traditional Romanian holiday originating from Dacian times and celebrated on February, the 24th. The day is particularly known as „the day when the birds are betrothed”. It is around this time that the birds begin to build their nests and mate. On this day, considered locally the first day of spring, boys and girls gather vernal flowers and sing together. Maidens used to collect the snow that still lies on the ground in many villages and then melt it, using the water in magic potions throughout the rest of the year. Those who take part in Dragobete customs are supposed to be protected from illness, especially fevers, for the rest of the year. If the weather allows, girls and boys pick snowdrops or other early spring plants for the person they are courting. In Romania, Dragobete is known as a day for lovers, rather like Valentine’s Day. It is a common belief in some parts of Romania that, during this celebration, if you step over your partner’s foot, you will have the dominant role in your relationship. Dragobete customs vary from region to region.
Christmas in Romania is a major annual celebration, as in most countries of the Western world. The observance of Christmas was introduced once with the Christianization of Romania but it was then interrupted during the Communist Romania, as concepts as Religion,Jesus Christ or Church were banned by dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu. 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, Christmas Day, Saint Stephen day, New Year’s Eve (named Revelion in Romania). In traditional Romanian rural society, preparations for colinde started well in advance (sometimes weeks) before Christmas. The village youth (usually boys) would begin to form groups in different places and designate a leader in order to practice singing in unison. These groups are called cete de colindători, and their numbers vary from region to region. Then, starting on Christmas Eve, the groups would go to different houses and begin singing. In some villages, they go first to the mayor’s house, followed by the teacher’s house, whereas in other parts there is no pre-established order. The families would then invite them into the house, and give them different small gifts such as nuts, dried fruits and pretzels. There are also adaptations from international hit carols into Romanian, for example „Noapte de vis” (from „Silent Night„) or „O, brad frumos!” (from „O Tannenbaum„).
Romanian cuisine is a diverse blend of different dishes from several traditions with which it has come into contact, but it also maintains its own character. It has been greatly influenced by Ottoman cuisine, while it also includes influences from the cuisines of other neighbours. Quite different types of dishes are sometimes included under a generic term; for example:
ciorbă – this category includes a wide range of soups with a characteristic sour taste. These may be meat and vegetable soups, tripe and calf foot soups (ciorbă de burtă), or fish soups, all of which are soured by lemon juice, sauerkraut juice, vinegar, or traditionally borş.
ţuică (plum brandy) is a generic name for a strong alcoholic spirit in Romania, while in other countries, every flavour has a different name.
mămăliga– is one of the most common meals is the a cornmeal mush, served on its own or as an accompaniment.
Pork is the main meat used in Romanian cuisine, but also beef is consumed and a good lamb or fish dish is never to be refused.
Before Christmas, on December 20 (Ignat’s Day or Ignatul in Romanian), a pig is traditionally cut up by every rural family. A variety of foods for Christmas prepared from the slaughtered pig consist of the following:
- Cărnaţi — sausages
- Caltaboş — sausages made with liver
- Tobă and piftie — dishes using pig’s feet, head and ears suspended in aspic
- Tochitură — pan-fried pork served with mămăligă and wine („so that the pork can swim”).
- Piftie – inferior parts of the pig, mainly the tail, feet and ears, are cooked refinely and served in a form of gelatin
- Jumari – small pieces of pig meat are fried and tumbled through various spices
cozonac-is the sweet Christmas meal, a sweet bread with nuts and rahat for dessert.
At Easter, lamb is served: the main dishes are roast lamb and drob de miel – a Romanian-style lamb haggis made of minced organs (heart, liver, lungs) wrapped and roasted.The traditional Easter cake is pască, a pie made of yeast dough with a sweet cottage cheese filling at the center.
clătita is the Romanian pancakes, called are thin (like the French crêpe) and can be prepared with savory or sweet fillings: ground meat, white cheese, or jam. Different recipes are prepared depending on the season or the occasion.