Christmas Traditions in Romania – Connecting with the Past

Romania is a country of many customs and traditions where Christmas is undoubtedly the most tradition-filled time of the year. Many of these Christmas traditions are very old and quite unique.. Others are newer and most likely borrowed from other European countries. Although some customs may differ from region to region, Christmas in Romania is celebrated in the same manner throughout the country. During the Communist era the religious meaning of Christmas was banished. “Christmas Time” became “Winter Celebrations,” and “Old Father Christmas” became “Old Man Frost.” Romanians however continued to secretly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in their families and observe the old Christmas customs and traditions.   

mos-niculae2

 

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 holidays of the year by children who receive small gifts in their boots from St. Nicholas on this day. But only if they are good! Otherwise, instead of presents they receive a stick. On the evening of December 5 every child must clean a pair of their shoes and leave it by the door, hoping that Old St. Nick will leave a present for them. The gifts are usually small and symbolic, like crayons, or watercolors, often just oranges or chocolate. But children enjoy them just the same. 

 

 

Christmas Fasting (Postul Craciunului)

Most Romanians practice Eastern Orthodoxy and are very religious people. The Christmas Fasting 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 fasting means that no meat, eggs or dairy products can be consumed during this time. Although the fasting lasts for six weeks, it’s surprising to see how many people consciously respect this religious practice.    

 

The Pig Slaughtering (Taierea porcului)

Romanians really love to eat pork and are very skilled in preparing it. Christmas is usually celebrated with lots of pork dishes, so one of the most important tradition at this time of year is the slaughtering of the pig. Each year on Saint Ignat Day (St. Ignatius) –December 20th– Romanian families in rural areas sacrifice one of their pigs and use the meat for cooking the Christmas meals. The ritual may seem gruesome, but its purpose is not “entertainment.” It is the old-fashioned way of killing an animal in order to feed the family. Even though people in the cities no longer do this ritual, in the countryside the custom is still a long-lasting Christmas tradition that has been practiced for centuries. 

pig-slaughtering

Pig slaughtering in Romania

  The ceremony starts early in the morning with the sacrifice of the animal and continues with the cutting of the meat and melting of the fat. Almost every single part of the pig is being used, including the guts that are being stuffed with sausage mix. For three days, all women in the family help prepare the dishes for the Christmas feast.    

 

Decorating the Tree

The Christmas celebration really begins when it’s time to decorate the Christmas tree. The tree is usually bought  just a couple of days before Christmas and the decorating is done by the whole family on Christmas Eve. The Christmas tree stays in the house till January 7.

decorating-the-tree

 

Christmas Eve (Noaptea de Ajun)

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. Santa is coming from a far away land at the North Pole. He is old and fat and can barely move under the weight of that big bag, but somehow he never missed a date in all these years. He will surely come tonight too.    

 

The Caroling (Colindatul)

A very important part of the Romanian Christmas festivities is the caroling (“colindatul”). Throughout the Christmas season groups of small children and students, especially those in the villages, go from door to door singing beautiful Romanian carols. Carolers usually receive pretzels, cookies or other goodies like nuts or fruits. The caroling tradition comes in different forms, depending on the area of the country. In the big cities there is only the simple caroling, which involves only people singing. In the countryside, the caroling also includes dancing and some ritual performances.

 

On Christmas Day many carolers walk through the streets of the towns and villages holding a large wooden star called “Steaua.” The star that displays an image of the Nativity is wrapped up in aluminum foil, adorned with bells and colorful ribbons and attached to the end of a broom stick. 

steaua

Some of the carolers are dressed in costumes representing different animals like goats, bears, or horses. These animals symbolize the evil forces that need to be chased away from the village. Other carolers wearing grotesque masks come with large bells, drums, and whips and start dancing and making lout noises intended to scare away the evil forces.    

 

The Christmas Feast

Christmas Day is usually spent with all the family around the table, after attending the Christmas church service. Christmas dinner in Romania is a rich, multi-course meal, consisting of various kinds of pork sausages, “sarmale” (pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with a mixture of pork, beef and rice, and seasoned with pepper, thyme and other spices), smoked pork knuckle with beans sauce, beef or turkey roast, piftie” or pig’s trotters (a jelly dish with pieces of meat and garlic), beef salad, grilled eggplant salad, “cozonaci” (a cake filled with nuts and raisins) and lots of red wine and “tuica” (a strong traditional spirit that contains 40-45% alcohol and is made from plums).  

What are the most beloved Christmas traditions in your country?

  * Featured photo courtesy of Stefan Nicolae      

 

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39 Comments on “Christmas Traditions in Romania – Connecting with the Past

    • They consider it fasting the fact that do not eat any meat or dairy products during these 40 days however they allow fish twice a week and vegetal

  1. Enjoyed this post so much, Anda! Made me miss my first winter visit to Prague…many years ago! Thanks for sharing this inside look at Romanian traditions.

  2. I so enjoyed this post, Anda! (The top photo is lovely. Did you take it?) One line stuck out as particularly interesting to me: “During the Communist era the religious meaning of Christmas was banished. ‘Christmas Time’ became ‘Winter Celebrations…” This sounds so familiar to how things have become in the U.S. where schools can no longer have Christmas parties or programs and they must be called something similar to what you said. Store clerks and ads say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” for fear of offending someone, etc. Despite the political correctness that seems to reign here, I am glad I am still free to wish you a “Merry Christmas!”
    Debbra Dunning Brouillette recently posted…Ah, Athens! Must-see sites: Acropolis and Acropolis MuseumMy Profile

    • Good point, Debbie. It’s worrisome to see that our country it’s becoming so “politically correct” that it’s ready to mop under the rug all these traditions. And when you think that America was founded on religious freedom …

  3. I like that some of the traditions seem really familiar to me and that others are so different. The fasting reminds me more of Lent than of Christmas. I’m guessing they don’t put on as many holiday season pounds (or kg). I remember one of my Facebook friends who was new to Romania posting how loud and horrid the pig slaughtering sounds were. She tried to turn up the TV really loud so that her young kids wouldn’t hear it.

  4. So in Romania St Nicholas arrives on December 6th and Santa Claus on December 25th. Is that right? In Puerto Rico, Santa arrives on Dec 25 and The Three Wise Men on January 6th. The picture of the pig reminds me of the way pigs are killed in Puerto Rico. There is even a popular Christmas song that describes how a pig is killed for the festivities. People sing it in our version of “caroling.” #TheWeeklyPostcard
    Ruth recently posted…Naschmarkt: Vienna’s Largest Outdoor MarketMy Profile

    • It’s so interesting to see so many similarities between these two very different cultures. Makes you wonder where the originated.

  5. Anda, I would love to experience this some day, even the pig slaughtering believe it or not. I love seeing how other countries celebrate the various holidays. Every country is so unique. Do you miss Romania at Christmas?
    corinne recently posted…Drink From the Cup of Life!My Profile

    • I do, Corinne. I especially miss having all my family together. Now we are spread all over the world and that makes it very difficult to get together.

    • Germans have very beautiful Christmas traditions. Some of them have been borrowed by the Romanians in Transylvania because there were very many Germans there.

  6. Great post. It’s wonderful to see the different traditions in different countries. My husband is Dutch and St Nicholas day is on December 5th. Maybe it takes St Nick and extra day to get to Romania.

  7. I always wonder if, even in the old days when parents were harsher, if kids actually got sticks. Germans also celebrate this day, usually with candy and oranges in their shoes I think. Then when Father Christmas comes around on the 24th, he actually tells the kids how their doing — you’re getting better at hand washing Peter, but you need to work on your math!

    • Believe it or not one year my parents left sticks in my our boots. We had been very bad the past few months and they wanted to teach us a lesson, but in the end their disappointment was bigger than ours.

  8. I used to follow all these traditions when I was a kid (fasting, caroling, etc) but as I grew older, I also grew out of them. Now I have other traditions that I hold dear, for instance every Christmas, mom and I bake funny animal shaped biscuits. 🙂
    Vlad recently posted…A Quick And Minty Journey To MoroccoMy Profile

  9. Hi Anda,

    Wonderful pictures. My grand dad was Romanian and although he was Orthodox he was not too religious. Never saw his fast at all 😉 Rough stuff with the pig but these are traditions many cultures follow. I recall seeing a pig being slaughtered in the jungles of Costa Rica, squealing like made. I looked on although highly unpleasant but my wife – especially because she is a vegetarian – could not take it. Loving the traditions from my 1/4 heritage 🙂

    Ryan
    Ryan Biddulph recently posted…10 Tips to Go from Newbie to Big Time BloggerMy Profile

    • So good to discover you are 1/4 Romanian, Ryan. Did you every think of going to Romania? Maybe you still have some far away relatives there.

  10. I’m a big ol’ Scrooge when it comes to Christmas, but holiday traditions are always fascinating (especially when they involve food). Good thing I really love pork!

    • Thanks for taking time to read my post and comment on it, Efrain. I think you would have a blast visiting Romania at Christmas time, even though you are not big on this holiday.

  11. Nice “collection” of Christmas traditions and it seems everyone loes to read about them. I would only add that the “piftie” dish is not made for Christmas in all regions. Here, in Transylvania, we usually make piftie for the “Boboteaza” holiday, on January 6.

    • You may be right, Luminita. I lived in Bucharest and people there kind of mix up these traditions. Thanks for visiting my blog.

  12. The Christmas traditions in Romania are wonderful. It must be a very special time of year.
    Thanks for this awesome Post.

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