Although having different cultural roots, traditions and customs, Romanian regions are all sharing the same spiritual and sacred values on Christmas. Celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Romanians also pay tribute to such concepts as family, love, generosity, turning to their roots and celebrating them. It’s a time of giving, sharing, singing and dancing, from the farthest hamlet in the mountains up to the country’s cosmopolitan cities.
Although not preserved as in the past, particularly in the city, Christmas and Christmas Eve’s traditions and customs are still present in each of us, 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 do preserve some basic benchmark moments.
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.
The “pitaratului” tradition, an ancient folk custom said to date back in the Dacians’ time, although there was no Christmas celebration back then, is preserved in Limba village in Alba county, where tens of children, considered to be the first carolers of this day, wake up first thing in the morning of December 24 and go caroling from one house to another, while people are throwing them sweets and fruit.
“Pitaraul” is a little alpha-shaped bagel, made by housewives from the bread dough. The word is though used to name the child who wakes up before 6 a.m. on Christmas Eve to be the first to go caroling.
If you want to find out more on the Christmas traditions and customs of each Romanian region you can read the following features.