Some of the many highlights that make a tour in Romania simply surprising are the winter holidays. These are the most original and spectacular local spiritual celebrations. Truly in full-swing from December 24 to January 7, the unique variety of colorful Romanian customs and believes, folklore and artistic events start on Christmas Eve, go through the New Year and end on Epiphany. These one of-a-kind-traditions specific to the most joyous season vary from region to region. And they are almost unaltered at all in the small remote villages, especially in Maramures and Moldavia. However the most common and best known are: Steaua (The Star), Capra (The Gout), Ursul (The Bear), Plugusorul (The Little Plough) and Sorcova.
On Christmas Eve right after the sunset, children of all ages go caroling from house to house. As a sign of their performance appreciation the adults welcome them with all kind of treats. Pretzels, nuts, apples and other fruits, cakes, cookies, candies, honeycombs and money go into children’s bags. A couple of hours later groups of adult carolers, each one with a leader, sing and dance in the front yards of the houses. Then the hosts invites them inside for drinks, food and presents. Steaua is the song you will here for all 3 days of Christmas holidays. For this the children made stars of colored paper – sometimes decorated with shiny tinsels – to hold while singing:
“Steaua sus rasare / Ca o taina mare. / Steaua straluceste / Si lumii vesteste…”
(The star is rising up / Like a big mystery. / The star is shining / And is heralding to the world…)
NEW YEAR’S EVE
The Little Plough is a custom arisen from “Carmen arvale” Roman’s way to wish for crops’ protection. The children and teenagers welcome in the coming year wishing for fertile farm fields. In the same time they make noises on the streets with a little decorated plough, bells, whips and pipes.
“Aho, aho, copii si frati, / Stati putin si nu manati. / Langa boi v-alaturati / Si cuvantul mi-ascultati.”
(Ahoy, ahoy, children and siblings, / Wait a minute and don’t drive. / Near oxen you join / And my word you listen.)
Traditionally Sorcova was made of one or more apple, cherry, pear or plum tree twigs. These were put in water in a warm place on Saint Andrew’s Day (November 30). And they used to bud and blossom on New Year’s Eve. But nowadays it can be also a little stick adorned with artificial flowers of different colors. In the morning of New Year the children slightly hit on the back their parents, relatives, neighbours and other acquaintances. And they wish them in special verses health, luck and a Happy New Year.
“Sorcova, vesela / Să trăiţi, să înfloriţi / Ca un măr, ca un păr / Ca un fir de trandafir. / Tare ca piatra / Iute ca săgeata / Tare ca fierul / Iute ca oţelul / La anul şi la multi ani !”
(Sorcova, the merry / May you live and blossom / Like an apple tree, like a pear tree / Like a rose thread. / Strong as the stone / Fast as the arrow / Strong as the iron / Fast as the steel / To the next year and Happy New Year !)
The celebrations of Epiphany (on January 6) and Saint John the Baptist (on January 7) mark the end of the Winter Holiday Season. January 6 – the frostiest day of the year – is the day when the water has special powers. It is consecrated by a double calling of the Holy Ghost. Plus the consecration occurs on the same day that Christ was baptized in the waters of the Jordan River. In Bucharest, people gather on the Mitropoly’s Hill where the Patriarch consecrates the water. He explains that it should be tasted for 8 mornings in a row before eating as this number symbolizes the eternity.
In Constanta, the patriarch throws 3 crosses into the sea to consecrate the water. The youngsters brave enough to defy the severe cold weather retrieve them. After the religious ceremony, chariots pulled by oxen and donkeys ride on the city’s main streets. And people receive from them the bottles with the holy water. In towns and villages situated near rivers, the priest throws a large wooden cross in the water. The first youngster who gets to the cross will be protected throughout the year.