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Christmas Traditions and Customs in Romania

Lorena Boandă

Lorena Boandă

Lorena Boandă is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Romania).
You can read more about Lorena here.
Lorena Boandă

Christmas is highly awaited by numerous people, especially children, all over the world.  Thanks to this important feast, you get to spend more time with your family, visit the church, eat some delicious food, go caroling, plus give and receive gifts.  Of course, every Christian country, and even different region within the same country, celebrate this great holiday in their own way.

Romania is no exception – each of our provinces has its own set of unique Christmas customs and traditions, which it follows closely.  In fact, there are 5 large regions in our country, each with its own Christmas rituals: Transylvania, Moldova, Oltenia, Banat and Dobrogea.  So let me share with you a few of these customs, which I collected directly from the locals.

Romanian Christmas Traditions - Global StorybookTransylvania

In Transylvania, Christmas preparations start around November 15th.  By that time, the locals finish their work in the fields and can begin fasting by excluding meat, eggs, and dairy from their menu.  Women also have free time now to weave clothes for the Winter and the upcoming holidays.

The liveliest area in this region is Maramureș.  You can go caroling and get different goodies in return, such as apples, puddles, nuts, and of course, money.  Carolers either dress normally or wear some bright holiday clothes.

Sibiu, Transylvania, Romania - Global Storybook

Sibiu – an old, historic city of Transylvania

One famous custom in this area is “The Old Men’s Game”.  It usually takes place after the boys finish their carols.  Some say that it started from a very old ritual for the dead.  The local boys would take their whips and go through their village.  Any person who comes in their way gets “slapped” by the whip.  They also knock at the people’s doors to scare them, as well as to wish them a happy and prosperous New Year.  Their costume usually consists of a mask, made of fur.

In addition, in Transylvania it is common for young people to gather in groups of 20-30 to play “Viflaim“.  This fun game signifies the birth of Jesus.  The youngsters would usually imitate the famous characters, such as: the herald, the angel, St. Mary the Virgin, the pastors, the three rays from the East, as well as many others.

Rasnov, medieval city of Transylvania - Global Storybook

Rasnov – a beautiful, medieval town in Transylvania, Romania

As to the local superstitions, people believe that you are not allowed to clean your house on the Christmas day, to wash your clothes, or to sweep the floors, because it’s a sin.  Animals get plenty of food and a symbolic slice of dough, hoping that it will keep them healthy during the next year.

READ MORE:
Zacuscă - a Romanian Winter Delicacy

In Bistrița-Năsăud, especially in Ilva Mare, young people dress up as different characters, such as: a goat, a soldier, a priest, a doctor, a bear, a groom and bride, plus numerous others, to stage a theater play.  They are called “belciugari,” and it is believed that if they visit your house – you will have a prosperous new year.

Romanian Christmas Traditions - Global Storybook

Photo: Tiberiu Sahlean/shutterstock.com

Moldova

Some of the popular traditions in Bucovina, in the Moldova region, include hiding the forks, or placing a stone in the oven – to drive the snakes away from the home.  Years ago, girls used to go out with a piece of dough in their hands and touch the trees.  It was supposed to invite a fruitful new year.

Bucovina is also famous for the abundance of tasty food, that the locals serve on their Christmas tables.  People usually fast until the Christmas day, and on the Christmas Eve, they eat all sorts of dishes.  Since during the fast they cannot eat any meat, eggs, or dairy products – they choose mushrooms as the main ingredient, and prepare numerous dishes, like sarmale with potatoes, or a mushroom soup.  In addition, religious people like to place a red wool in a shape of a cross on their festive table.

Traditional Christmas carnival masks. Bucovina, Romania - Global Storybook

Traditional Christmas carnival masks in Bucovina. Photo: salajean/shutterstock.com

In this region, young people also go caroling, and many of them like to dress up as a traditional ‘harbor’ with hats and woolen coats.  Men are careful to return everything they’ve borrowed from others, in order not to remain indebted during the next year.  Also, in Bucovina it’s considered a sin if your doors are locked on the Christmas Eve and if you don’t let the carolers in.

Oltenia

In Oltenia, people are accustomed to jumping through a fire with a stick, while uttering a specific phrase.  This custom is believed to bring in prosperity.

On the night before the Christmas Eve – men, boys and children, adorn various flags with different flowers and bells.  Then they would hang them around the village, prior to the start of the caroling.  They are called “Piţarăi“, and it’s a form of a ritual to thank God for the fruits received during the past year.  Most young people go out caroling with a “Star” on the Christmas Eve, announcing the birth of the Lord, usually in groups of four.

Night view in Craiova, Oltenia region, during Christmas - Global Storybook

Night view in Craiova, in the Oltenia region, during Christmas. Photo: Glacyer/shutterstock.com

Meanwhile, women would go to the cemetery and fire incense around the graves.  After that, they’d return home to their homemade bagels, which they prepare to give out as gifts, along with an egg and a candle.

READ MORE:
5 Most Popular Romanian Superstitions

Banat

In this area of Romania, people would pick up a hazelnut stick, then hit the floor of their house with it, to drive out the evil spirits.  Many believe that hazelnut wood has a magical power to cast out snakes, devils and bring prosperity.  Once the carolers come in, the hosts would shower them with a fistful of wheat and corn grains.  This custom is believed to bring a plentiful of crops in the coming year.

Timisoara Christmas lights, Banat, Romania - Global Storybook

Christmas lights in Timisoara, Banat, Romania. Photo: degetzica/shutterstock.com

In addition, Serbian people living in the region are accustomed to burning a young oak trunk, called badnajak on the Christmas Eve.  It’s meant to bring good luck and general well-being.

Dobrogea

Finally, in the Dobrogea region children don’t go out caroling with a traditional “goat” costume, instead they use an “ostrich”.  The costume is made of wool, and reed is usually attach to it.  Besides the ostrich – a cat, a mare, a helper, an accountant, plus a brandy drinker (“ţuicar”) are also popular here.

Also, in this area, there is a tradition for the young boys to represent an “Oleleu“.  Oleleu is an ancient pagan character.  When he enters a yard, he will watch over the other carolers and scare off the evil spirits.  The costume consists of a shell made of sheepskin, with a buckle and a wooden sword.  Bells and ornaments can also be attached to the suit.

Dobrogea, Romania - Global Storybook

Photo: danm12/shutterstock.com

In Luncavița, carolers would dress up as “old men”.  It’s also probably the only village in the country where this custom is still practiced.  The men would wear different masks, which are said to chase off the evil, that tries to prevent the birth of Jesus.  They also proclaim a happy New Year, wishing success and prosperity to everyone.  Their masks usually contain colorful bows, beads and flowers.  They also wear a long, furry coat made of fox or a rabbit’s fur.

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