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May 6, 2021

Romanians celebrate Christmas in colourful ways

Most of the customs and traditions are usually still kept only in the countryside.

In the Romanian Christmas traditions, within the typical Romanian family, there is a lot of love, poetry and fairy tales. Whoever wants to get to know the Romanian spirit has to enter a Romanian house, especially in winter time. He will see the Romanian bowing to the East, where light comes from, and how he makes the sign of the cross before eating, or how before cutting the bread, the traditional Romanian woman makes the sign of the cross three times.

In some Romanian areas, on Christmas Eve, farmers gather back everything they’ve lent during the year. In Mehedinti County, parents put coins in their children’s pockets, in order for them to have a bountiful new year.  Also, on Christmas Eve, bread is placed under the table to bear luck for the whole family, and wheat is placed under the table cloth, to bring good crops. In Romania, Christmas begins with fasting, which takes six weeks (from November 15th to December 24th). Fasting implies giving up on meat, eggs and milk, or like our grandfathers would say, restraining from sweet foods.

A true fasting would mean giving up on physical love, on alcohol and paying back any dues. People from villages do not listen to the radio during the fasting period, they don’t watch TV and they don’t throw or go to any parties. The fasting ends on Christmas night.

Ignat Day- Pig Sacrifice

On December 20th, people celebrate “the Ignat Day.” On that day, they aren’t allowed to do any work, but prepare the pork. According to the tradition, those who are poor and have no pig (which is usually sacrificed and prepared at the farmer’s home) should sacrifice another animal.  This tradition is kept particularly in the countryside, where everything takes place according to a closely followed ritual. The origins of this custom date back to immemorial times. It was accepted and absorbed by the Christian religion as a natural part of the local community life. Chris­tianity also bestowed upon it a religious significance, as nobody can taste the food prepared on this day until after the priest has given his blessing. While rural villagers still practice the pig slaughter, keeping and slaughtering domestic animals isn’t practical for city dwellers, but the tradition of eating pork for Christmas in Romania prevails. Other dishes will accompany the main pork dish or be made from pork, and Romanian plum brandy may be drunk.

The pig slaughter on Ignat day is a purely Romanian custom, which was in fact “Christianized” at the end of the middle age. As always, there is a legend behind this custom. The legend says that a man called Ignat, trying to slaughter the pig, accidentally hit his father in the head with an ax.  An old belief was that in the night before Ignat, the pig dreams of its knife. Those who are faint at heart and feel sorry for the pig are not allowed to participate in this ceremony, unless it dies slowly and its meat is no longer good. Grandfathers usually make the sign of the Cross on their grandchildren’s foreheads, in order for them to be healthy.  Men and women start by cutting and preparing the lard bacon, the sausages and other traditional specialties. And thus, begin the preparations for the Christmas feast. Housewives choose meat for their delicious cabbage rolls, for steaks, and the grease for baking cookies.

Carols and gifts

In the old times, children were given pretzels, nuts and apples. Today, they receive money, candy and cookies. Both parents and children go carol-singing on Christmas Eve. The houses are beautifully adorned on that eve, perfectly clean and ready to receive the carol-singers. Carol-singing is a ritual made of ceremonial texts (carols), dances and gestures. Carols give messages and wishes of good health, prosperity, good crops and the fulfilment of all wishes. In Transylvania, the tables are laid, waiting for the carol-singers. Carol-singers start their day at dawn, and end it at dusk. After they sing two or three carols in the courtyard, the youth are invited inside, to be properly welcomed and fed with traditional meals and drinks. Christmas Eve is a great opportunity for Romanians to visit their friends, neighbours and relatives.

In some parts of the country, there is a custom called “carrying the icon”, which symbolizes the birth of Jesus Christ. In the north of Moldavia, the Christmas Eve feast is made of fasting food. And no one is allowed to uncover the table, until the priest comes through the door.

The goat dance

The elder held the goat as the animal that could foretell if the weather would be good or bad. Originally, the ˝goat dance˝ (the killing, mourning, burial and resurrection) was a grave and serious ceremony. In time it has turned into a ritual meant to bring prosperity in the year to come. Nowadays, this game has remained a pretext to remember traditions from long ago and also take pride in the colorful traditional costumes worn on this occasion.

The christmas tree

The custom of the Christmas tree was borrowed from Western Europe. Supposedly, it comes from the pagan Germanic tribes and was subsequently absorbed by Christianity. In Romania, the tradition of decorating a tree or a green branch was tied to the wedding ritual (the wedding

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