Jornal Online da UBI, da Região e do Resto
Directora: Anabela Gradim
ROMÉNIA: the old and the new come together at Christmas
Anca Toma · quarta, 25 de dezembro de 2013 · Continuado
If we think about the joy of people and the burden of the cooks in the days before Christmas, Romania is no different than any countries in the world. But when it comes to the feeling that the people share at Christmas Eve and then during all three days of the holiday, the countrys spirit stands out.
Carolers in Maramureș, a northern region of Romania
Romanians admit to having the old and the new equally received in their homes. They begin celebrating the birth of Jesus even before they’re allowed to celebrate, through a fast that lasts six weeks. From the middle of November to Christmas Eve, they are not allowed to eat any type of meat, eggs and dairy products, which are all called “mâncare de dulce” meaning “sweet food”. It also means people do not dance or sing of joy, as they are saving themselves for the happy days of Christmas.
There is, however, one day that doesn’t obey to the rule. They call it “Ignat” and it is the day when pigs are sacrificed in villages all over the country, with a ritual that represents the old ways of the Romanian people. Families gather together and start preparing special meals for Christmas, but it isn’t as much cheerful as it is a hardworking day, especially for the mothers and grandmothers, the ones who hold all the secrets to the traditional recipes. Also, Ignat always comes with a forbidden, yet delicious delight. Before any other preparations, men cook a few pieces of fresh meat in a pot and share it with everybody as part of the ritual. The meal is called “pomana porcului”, meaning “the alms of the pig” and it is usually accompanied by a lot of spices, garlic and goat cheese.
Even if a lot of Romanians nowadays buy everything from supermarkets, they still understand the importance of having some of the most famous dishes on their Christmas table. Few Romanians dare to miss all the type of sausages, like “chișcă”, “tobă” or “caltaboș”, the “cozonac” (an aromatic, rich cake filled with cocoa, Turkish delight, raisins or nuts) and, of course, “sarmale”. The last ones are inspired by the Turkish specialty “Zeytinyağlı yaprak sarması” and they are meat, rice, spices and other vegetables wrapped in cabbage or vine leaves.
As it happens with other holidays, Romanian Christmas is rich in food, wine and “palincă”, a strong, clear brandy that opens up the appetite before the copious meals. But people never forget about the custom of "colindă" (caroling).
On the 24th of December, in the evening, children start knocking on all doors and ask people to receive the glory of baby Jesus Christ through their voices. In the old villages, they also wear costumes, telling stories about Bethlehem and how the Lord was born. As it gets darker, older children come carrying a star and singing “Steaua sus răsare” (“The star rises up high”), as a symbol of the moment when the Three Wise Men follow the light of the star in east to find Jesus. Children receive money and candies, but “it used to be very different”, grandparents usually say this time of the year. Some grandmothers still bake “colaci” (bread coils) and give them to the caroling children, along with nuts, apples or oranges and a symbolic coin.
Romanians share gifts on the first day of Christmas, in the morning, under the Christmas tree. This is a dear tradition, because before 1989, when Romania was still a communist country, the tree was supposed to be adorned on New Year’s Eve and was referred to as winter tree. But people kept the lights off and the tree far from the window and still had a Christmas tree on the 24th of December.
Some say that Christmas has become a business everywhere in the world. It is true for Romania, too. But if you take a closer look, the villages of this country, the people that still respect every bit of the old Christmas, as they learned it from their ancestors, you will realize that the holidays may never lose their taste here.