Romanian customs and traditions on New Year’s day

The ceremonial of the symbolic renewal of the calendar year over Dec 31 – Jan 1 means the burial of the old year and the birth of the new one, and it is called the old year before and the new year, after that midnight. It is a personification of the Sun. The Year’s Divinity is born, grows, ages and dies along the calendar year and revives after 365 days, and 366 in leap years.

St. Basil is the first of the holidays celebrating the important saints of the Romanian religious calendar. St. Basil is celebrated every year on January 1, as a joyful young man who likes love and fun.

Over the week between Christmas and the New Year, lads of the Romanian villages went wishing well and caroling their neighbours, disguised as bears, goats, little horses, stags, devils, wearing ugly or nice masks. They go caroling from door to door, from dusk to dawn.

They performed the Goat ceremonial from Christmas till New Year’s Eve, bearing masks evoking Biblical characters, and which are later replaced by beasts masks, such as a stag in Hunedoara (central), a goat in Muntenia, Oltenia (south), Moldavia (east) and the Ardeal (central), a buffalo in southern Transylvania. The ceremonial goat worn by the carolers is carved in wood and wrapped in red paper.

The bear caroling is performed in Moldavia, only, on the New Year day. It is a lad wearing a bear fur on his head and shoulders, and its ears are decorated with red tassels. A child plays the baby bear, and the band accompanying them plays drums and gruff like bears and mimic the bear’s gait, strongly hitting the ground with their feet.

On the New Year Day, the caroling bands wish people be in good health, rich and wealthy and joyful, and they receive fancy breads, wine, sausage and money, in exchange.

‘Shouting over the village’ is a night ceremonial when lads play judges sentencing those who broke the community laws and rules. Perched on hills, trees or roofs they say whipping words to the spinsters, the old maids, the old women who put bad spells on people, the men who abandon their wives, the lazy, the thieves and the drunkards. The whole community is looking forward watching the show, closing with the saying “Let evil be gone, let good grow.” For cleaning and removing the evil and the bad, fires are lit as part of the custom.

On the first day of the year on St. Basil day heavens are said to stay open and prayers come true, and beasts and animals can speak like humans. This is the day of ceremonials called the Plow and Sorcova, when people are wished well and prosperity. Newly wedded men go caroling the Plow. This is an ancient agrarian custom, a fertility rite. The plow song wishes rich crops in the arriving year. The Plow carol tells the story of the farming works like ploughing, sowing, taking care of plants, harvesting and carrying the grains to the barns. The plow carol is always accompanied by whip cracking and ringing bells, and sounds of an instrument mimicking oxen’s mooing.

The ritual sowing is another custom, at this time of the year. The carolers bear small bags full with wheat, barley, oats grains and maize sometimes, they step in houses and throw grains mimicking the sowing in the field and wish the hosts to be in good health and harvest rich crops. They are than given apples, fancy breads or money. After they leave, the housewives gather the grains spread on the floor and take them to the stable because they are believed they should keep the cattle healthy throughout the year.

Last but not least Sorcova is another New Year’s day custom, and it is the delight of every child. Sorcova (photo) is a twig full of buds or a stick decorated in colored paper flowers. The name Sorcova originates in the Bulgarian word surov meaning green and tender, hinting to the freshly budded twigs. The Sorcova is slightly directed to a person and plays somehow the role of a magic wand that has the power to give vigor and youth to the person it is pointed to. The words of Sorcova song remind us of charms wishing you to be strong and powerful.

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