EuroNews 12-2006, The Scent of Christmas in Romania

The “month of presents” turns into a full season of joyfulness for most Romanians. Its very beginning – the 1st of December – brings back in our memory the national reunification of 1918, and we celebrate it as the National Day. In the evening of the same day, the “Christmas lights” are turned on in most of the cities and the winter holidays may come!

The shops are already decorated and lure their customers to help Moş Nicolaie (Old Saint Nicholas) be generous. So, in the morning of December the 6th you might find in your boots either an adorned rod (in case you haven’t proved to be such a good kid throughout the past year) or that present you’ve been waiting for so long. And with this present, Moş Nicolaie might also give you a hint of how much open-handed Moş Crăciun will be on the 25th.

Still, your thoughts drift the swiftest to the magic of Christmas when you hear the traditional colinde (carols) about the Birth of the Child Jesus. In the Orthodox churches (some 80 % of Romania’s population is declared as Christian-Orthodox) they are sung since the beginning of the Advent – that is 40 days before the Christmas; in some cities – on the main pedestrian areas, during the second half of December – you can also hear them played at loudspeakers. Such Christmas songs animate you to open your heart and prepare both your soul and house for the Great Feast.

After all these preparations are done, you can eventually enjoy the 3 days of Christmas together with your dear ones! Being by excellence a family feast, several generations may actually adorn the same fir-tree. On the Christmas-table you can find a multitude of specialities that may differ from one area to another. In Moldova – the north-eastern region of Romania, where I come from – the variety of pork dishes is traditionally most appreciated. And to make their way easier on the throat, you can have them accompanied by one or several glasses of red wine or even ţuica (local plum-brandy).

However, if you want to feel what is actually preserved from the tradition, you’ll share this special event with a friend-family from the countryside. There you might notice that the carol-singers make a tour of the village during all the 3 days of Christmas and have a real repertoire in order to celebrate the Great Announcement. As well, the homemade bread and wine you’ll have at your meal will be first blessed at the church, on the evening of 24th.

And if you decide to stay a bit longer than Christmas, waiting for the New Year’s Eve together with the same friends, then you’ll witness the Show: bands of players and dancers come disguised in different animals (the Bear, the Goat) or fantastic characters and bring humorous wishes in verse for the new-coming year, designed specially for each family of the village. Other bands – or maybe the same, but without any masks this time – will make wishes for a wealthy year, regarding especially “the fruit of the earth”. On the evening of December 31st they’ll come with Pluguşorul (the Ploughing), and in the morning of January the 1st you’ll welcome the children coming with Sorcova (the Seeding).

There is much to say, and even more to experience, since these traditions made their way through history, even when the history wasn’t so friendly to them – for instance the “Communist Era” (1948 – 1989). The religious celebration was much discredited by the system and repressed in public spaces. Moş Crăciun (“Crăciun” means Christmas in Romanian) turned into Moş Gerila (an equivalent of Jack Frost), and the children could go “caroling”, but only if they sang about something else than the Birth of Child Jesus. However, the religious rituals were shared in many families and stayed alive also for the future generations. Now we’ll see how they manage to face the new challenge – maybe even more powerful by exactly its non-restrictive character – the “Era of Globalization”.

Still, let’s cheer up and end up in a happy atmosphere!

I wish you all to have Craciun minunat! si Un an nou fericit ! / A marvellous Christmas! And a happy new year! / Ein wunderbares Weihnachten! Und ein glückliches Neues Jahr!

Magdalena Chitic

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