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Romanian Christmas traditions

Christmas is coming and along with it such values as tradition, love, compassion, family. Celebrating Jesus’ birth, we have to turn to our roots, especially in these troubles times and be more focused on what’s really important in our lives, on the spiritual side of it rather than on the material one.


Although Christmas has indeed become a more material and pecuniary affair in the past decades, with running around for presents for the beloved ones, we must not forget what it really means in spiritual terms.


As for the Romanian ancient and folk traditions on Christmas and winter holidays, although not preserved as in the past, particularly in the city, they are still present in the collective mind of the nation and in every Romanian’s heart, and this is seen in the way we decorate our Christmas tree, in our traditional Christmas meals and carols.


However, many Romanian villages kept these winter traditions unspoiled, even if for the show’s sake. Overall, despite their particularities from one region to another, they preserve some central key elements.

Romanians celebrate St. Ignatius’s Day on December 20, which can be considered as a moment when Christmas holiday is kicking off. On this day, traditional Romanians are usually slaughtering the pig and its meat is used for the Christmas dishes like sausages, piftie – a sort of aspic meal, hog’s pudding and other pork dishes. Yet, this customs is mostly preserved in the countryside.


However, the Christmas celebrations actually start on Christmas Eve, on December 24th, when people should decorate their Christmas trees and go carol singing, when Santa is coming and gifts are shared.


Carol singing is indeed a very popular part of Christmas in Romania. On Christmas Eve, children go out carol singing from house to house, being rewarded with sweets, fruit, traditional cakes called ‘cozonaci’ and sometimes money for their performance. Adults go carol singing on Christmas Day evening and night.


A traditional Romanian carol is the ‘Star Carol’. The star, made of colored paper and often decorated with tinsel, silver foil and sometimes bells, is put on a pole. A picture of baby Jesus or a nativity scene is placed in the middle of the star. Carol singers take the star with them when they go carol singing.


Other popular carols to sing include ‘Oh, What Wondrous Tidings‘ (‘O, ce veste minunata’), ‘Three Wise Men coming from the East‘ (‘Trei Crai de la rasarit’), “Today Christ Was Born” (Astazi s-a nascut Hristos), “Three Shepherds“, “The Star” or “Sus la poarta Raiului” (Up at Heaven’s Gate).


Another Christmas Eve tradition is the performance of a drumming band or ‘dubasi‘, which usually consists in unmarried men. Such a drumming band can have up to 50 or 60 men! Besides drums, a saxophone and violin are often accompanying the singers. The band will practice for about a month before Christmas, so they are quite professional.