Romanian New Year’s traditions and customs

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The New Year’s in Romania is perceived as a moment of revamping time and world, of chasing the evil spirits away, a moment that makes the switch between two cycles of nature and labours.

After the Christmas celebration, dominated by carols, the New Year’s is marked by general traditions and also local and regional folk customs, with some being preserved nowadays, especially in the rural communities.

If in the cities, the New Year’s Eve is seen as a party marking the transition from one year to another, with the family and friends, accompanied by special dishes, drinks, dance and fun, fireworks and firecrackers, in the countryside the traditions go back in time, with a lot of rituals and folk customs. On New Year’s Eve, it’s also mostly children that go at every villager’s household to spread the New Year’s wishes: with the plough, bull, the cattle and the sheep bells and even with the ox-driven plough.

In most cases, the winter customs on New Year’s are focused on the masked dances (the she-goat, the deer, the bear, the procession, etc) and horses’ dances, as well as the outlaws’ drama in this region.

The masks are expressions of an ancient culture that crosses sands of time to connect with the present day people when the current year is almost finished and the new year is right behind the corner.

The masks also represent a fantastic world that is born from the traditional thinking. The masks personify spirits of the ancestors, real or fantastic animals, vegetation or water spirits, rebirth or fertility. Local handicraftsmen use different materials to make these masks, like pieces of leather or cloth, fur, weaves, carved wood, tree bark or animal horns.

In all the traditions presented in the form of a game, the choreography is provided by different masks depending on the area. For example, in Moldova there are most customs on this holiday, embodied by groups of boys, who present all kinds of games and costumes of the most varied, usually caroling from house to house, and playing in the rhythm whistles and shouts, or music.

In Bukovina, there is a unique custom in the country, on New Year’s Eve: bungherii, dressed in military uniforms similar to the Austrian generals, play in a circle and produce different shouts, being accompanied by wind instruments and drums. In the following we will briefly present some of the Romanian New Year traditions.

A general superstition on New Year’s Eve in the Romanian folk culture relates to unmarried girls who hope to foresee their husband-to-be this night.

Plugusorul/The plowman is a general custom, practiced by the Romans on the occasion of the New Year. It is recited from house to house on New Year’s Eve, in the evening, or until New Year’s morning.

The agrarian custom, with deep roots in Romanian spirituality, Plugusorul is a carol; a recited agrarian carol, with theatrical elements, having as subject the work submitted for obtaining bread. The plow, adorned with colored paper, ribbons, napkins, flowers, on which was possibly placed a fir tree, was an indispensable presence in this carol. It is now more of a symbolic presence in the greetings addressed to officials.

Initially practice only be men in the full bloom of manhood, Plugusorul is now practiced by children or teenagers. In general, it is practiced in small groups of 2-3 people. The recitation of the text is accompanied by the sound of bells, the ox and the click of the whips. In the more complex scenarios of the habit, there are also musical instruments (whistle, bagpipes, drums, cobza, violin), but also firecrackers and rifles, which amplify the noisy atmosphere in which the custom takes place. Carolers are rewarded with sweets, nuts, fruit or money.

In the first day of the New Year, “Sorcova” tradition is practiced; it’s an incantation hail wishing the householder to have a prosperous year, health and luck. Sorcova is also used to describe the object that characterizes this custom: a stick or twig decorated with artificial flowers of different colors. After playing Sorcova, children are usually rewarded with sweets, cakes and money.

In ancient times children used to go caroling with Sorcova, using an apple budded twig. They would put in the water on the night of Saint Andrew and until the day of Saint Basil, it was in bloom. This is how we explain why the Romanian carols are sung, in the middle of winter, about white flowers or apple blossoms.

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