December – Enjoy the beautiful Romanian traditions

December is for Romania and Romanians a time when we remember traditions.
Especially in the countryside, but not only. Our traditions are built around religious believes, but they embedded also superstitions which lasted over years.
The first celebration in December is St. Nicholas – celebrated on December 6th. On Saint Nicholas’ Eve all the children clean their boots, place them at the door (or window), and go to sleep waiting for Mos Nicolae to fill them with plenty of sweets. In the morning, the most obedient of them will discover lots of sweets tucked into their shoes, while the naughty ones will only find the symbolic whip. It is a saying that if it snows on this day, the winter ahead will be long and cold.
The Christmas fast begins on November 14th and ends on December 24th. Per Orthodox religion, during these 40 days preceding Christmas, nobody is allowed to eat meat, eggs, or milk, with few exceptions when fish is permitted.
Each year, on Ignat Day (St. Ignatius), on December 20th, Romanian families, especially those in the countryside, sacrifice their pig to have a rich meal for Christmas. A good part of the poor animal is turned into smoked ham, bacon, sausages, liver sausage, and other tasty but hard to translate specialties. Although this tradition exists since pre-Christian time, nowadays it lost its ritual purposes. However, this is still a powerful tradition in rural Romania, and depends on your preference if you would like to experience it or not.
Further Christmas traditions and customs in Romania include the decorating of Christmas Tree, which is usually made by the whole family a couple of days before Christmas; the arrival of Santa Claus with his bag full of gifts, a practice that takes place on Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve, women make sarmale (delicious meat-and-rice rolls wrapped in cabbage, served with polenta) and bake cakes with nuts, cocoa, called cozonaci.
In the countryside, the carols singing tradition comes in different forms. Often accompanied by wishes for health, prosperity, and fulfillment, Romanian carols are far from being just simple Christmas songs. They usually come together with rituals, special costumes and masks, generating a genuine spectacle. The most popular carol is Steaua (the Star boys’ singing procession).
Around New Years Eve the list includes Plugusorul – (the little plow). Equipped with bells and even whips, the children recite or sing traditional lyrics, usually featuring some agrarian or historical myths, the main message being in all cases health wishes for the hosts and rich crops for the year to come. In the evening of the same day, groups of adults, dressed in traditional clothes and playing musical instruments, perform “Plugul” (the big plow), even bringing a plow with horses or bulls in more traditional villages.
The most colorful New Year’s Eve traditions are the mask-dances, magical ceremonials of death and rebirth, with a variety of representations in forms of goats, horses or bears, and fictional characters like the devil.
One of the most spectacular mask-dances is the “dance of the bear”, an iconic animal for the forests of Romania. Symbolizing the death and rebirth of the New Year, the dance of the bear is usually accompanied by the music of drums that dictate the rhythm of the performance.
Another representative mask-dance is the “goat” that tells the story of powerful magical practices that have the power of resurrecting the animal after it was charmed, another symbol of the death and rebirth of nature. Usually, the goat mask is carved from wood, covered in fur, with a jaw that moves up and down and has horns from a real goat. The body of the goat is made of a colorful carpet.
Attractive and spectacular, the mask-dances are the highlights of New Year’s Eve traditions in the villages of Romania where they are still performed and conserved.
We hope you enjoyed the flavor we offered here, and you will decide experiencing this on your own.

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