M?rginimea Sibiului, counting 18 mountain villages, is known for its pastoral and wealthy shepherd communities in the mountains to the southwest of Sibiu.
Winter holidays have a particular charm in this region where unmarried young men gather in the so-called ‘group of lads’ (‘ceata junilor’). They dress up in traditional costumes on Christmas and go carol-singing the villages. This is a tradition kept for over a hundred years and became an attraction point for tourists.
This custom is typical to the winter holidays, but the preparations begin earlier, on Saint Nicholas Day, when the young men start the rehearsals. Each group has a leader (jude), one or two adjutants, a butler (the person who keeps the food and drinks) and the other members. They prepare a generic carol, and a particular one for the priest and one for the girls. The group’s ceremony begins on Saint Nicolas and finishes after the Epiphany day or after Saint John.
‘Judele’, the leader of the group from Saliste, is a 23 years old young man, Nicolae Voicu. He learned everything from his father and from his grandfather, former members of the group.
By tradition, on Christmas Eve, young men, dressed in festive clothes, start caroling, beginning with the church, either with the mayor’s house or with the priest’s. After caroling, the boys head to the host’s house, where they feast.
On December 28, in Saliste, takes place ‘The Reunion of the groups’, a tradition dating back in 1895. It is a feast of joy, a true display of the various popular costumes. For four weeks, the Groups of Young Men joyfully spread the news of the Birth of Jesus Christ and the beginning of a new year.
Every year on Christmas, groups of young men are gathering here in Marginimea Sibiului, to the delight of the tourists. The caps on their heads are decorated with peacock feathers, white flowers and the tricolour. ‘Judele’ is wearing a mist green cap with three feathers; the adjutant wears a black cap with two feathers and the rest of the group wear black caps with one feather.
The young men take off their caps only for Saint John, after they end up caroling all the persons called Ion or Ioana, then the group throws a party called ‘breaking’.
‘The Burial’ of the Year
Although the most important part of the Group is played on Christmas, it goes on working on New Year’s Eve as well. At midnight, boys go to the center of the village and perform a complex ceremony to bury the year that passed (they fire rags, tires and straws), and then they salute the coming year with songs, games, and fireworks. For example, in Saliste they burn a coffin.
The tradition of the lads was respected before the Revolution of 1989, too but now it got even more attention due to the touristic attraction of the region. Thousands of Romanian and foreign tourists who are visiting Sibiu and its surroundings on an annual basis also come to witness this exquisite folk ceremony.