How has St Andrew become the Romanians’ patron saint? From religion up to the profane ‘garlic’ custom
Christian believers are celebrating Saint Andrew every year on November 30. In 1994, Saint Andrew was named the patron saint of Dobruja, in 1997 the patron saint of Romania, and it became a public holiday as of 2012.
The story of Saint Andrew in Romania tells that today’s territory of Romania was Christianized by Saint Andrew, Peters’ brother in the 1st century AD. These claims are endorsed by some historians and by several Christian artifacts discovered and dated to the third century BC. The name Andrei/ Andrew comes from the Greek “Andreas”, which means “brave”, “manlike”.
The legend says that Saint Andrew arrived in Dobruja during a harsh winter, fighting wild beasts and the blizzard before reaching a cave. At the cave, Saint Andrew hit the ground with his walking stick and a spring came in to being, in the waters of which he baptized the locals and cured the ill, thus converting the whole area to Christianity.
The Saint Andrew Day is celebrated in Orthodox, Roman-Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican religions on the same day.
Besides being a major religious celebration and a national holiday in Romania, St. Andrew day has a long history of profane traditions and superstitions, which were mainly preserved in the countryside from one generation to another throughout history.
The legends say that on Saint Andrew’s night ghosts are walking around to steal “people’s minds” and “orchards’ fruit”. For that reason, peasants use garlic, oiling the house, the doors and windows, but also barns and hencoops with pounded garlic to chase away the evil spirits.
There is also the tradition of watching over the garlic. Lads and girls are watching and partying precisely that the garlic should gain good properties that would protect them against perils.
In Romania the day is also known for the custom to let wheat spring in order to test the abundance of the upcoming year.
Romanians in Bukovina call the holiday “Andreiu’ winter head”, symbolizing the interference of evil and good plans.
Another ritual celebrated on this night to test the fertility of the fields and orchards is to bring cherry branches in the house. If they bloom by Christmas, it’s a sign of fruitful year. Another custom is to put wheat in a clay pot to foresee the richness of the fields but also of a household in the year to come.
Tradition also says that girls try to find their future husband on Saint Andrew’s Eve. Thus, they throw plumb or melted tin into the water, which is foreshadowing the face of their future husband when it gets hard.
Also in order to find their pair, girls are standing in front of the mirror edged by two candles all night long until they catch a glimpse of the husband’s face.
Some elders used to observe the sky during St. Andrew’s night while predicting if the upcoming year is poor or wealthy, rainy or dry, and even if it’s peace or war.