Category Archives: Religion

How Romanians are celebrating winter holidays

The title of this blog post sounds like a google search query. And the answer to the query is as genuine it can be, as it’s the way we ( me, my friends and family) are celebrating winter holidays.

For one part of my family, winter holidays start with preparation. Namely, 40 days before Christmas, with the fasting. Fasting means switching to a vegan diet, but not only this. It also means trying to be a better person, to forgive and forget. For the rest, winter holidays start on November 30th, when we celebrate St. Andrew’s day. Is not that much a religious holiday, but as Saint Andrew is considered to be the Patron Saint of Romania, is also a non-working day. And it’s just before the National Day of Romania, December 1st ( Unification Day). 2 Days in a row without the need to go to work, that’s a good way to start celebrating winter. And, if it’s the weekend is close to these 2 days, here’s how we got ourselves a mini vacation. Tip for this day: try not to stay away from the main touristic attractions ( Prahova Valley for example, as you may spend half of your vacation stuck in traffic).

Then the winter celebrations are continuing with Saint Nicholas Day. The gifts frenzy starts with this day ( December 6th). Normally only the kids are receiving gifts on this day, usually sweets left during the night by the Saint-Nicholas ( aka Mos Nicolae = Old Man Nicholas) in their boots. So, in the evening before, the kids are polishing all their boots, hoping to impress “Mos Nicolae” to bring them as many gifts as possible. There is also a risk in all of this. The kids who didn’t behave well through all year will receive nothing but a stick. And usually, this is not going to happen, as every one of them was a good boy ( or girl) and the sticks are only for the adults.

kids preparing for Saint Nicholas
kids preparing for Saint Nicholas

In the countryside of Romania, a few days before Christmas ( usually on December 20 – Saint Ignat Day) people are starting the preparation of the Christmas Dinner by slaughtering the pig. If they are farmers the pig is from their own farm, if not, it is bought from the pig farmers in the area. It’s needed to do this in advance in order to give time the bacon, sausages and other pork goodies to mature and be ready to be eaten at Christmas. Every respectable man and women in the Romanian villages has to be also a skilled butcher, so every piece of the pork is transformed in mouth-watering delicacies.  Christmas dinner is considered incomplete without the carnati – homemade sausages, sunca or slana- bacon, jumari- cracklings, caltabos – blood sausage, toba – a dish made from pork skin, intestines, meat and spices boiled together, and then stuffed in the pig stomach. Is not a Christmas dish, but it is worth mentioning: “carne si carnati la garnita” –  a dish which is prepared in winter for the summer. If we want to be fancy we can call it pork confit, and it actually is a sort of it, but the Romanians will not call it this way, for the sake of God’s name. Basically is smoked pork chunks and sausages fried in lard at a small fire for at least an hour, put in jars or small buckets, all together with the lard. Is an easy way to preserve the meat, as it can last until the next summer if stored in a cool dry place. From all the pork dishes this is my favourite one.

Home made sausages and bacon
Homemade sausages and bacon

Christmas carols are an inherent accessory to winter holidays. In the countryside, it has mostly kept its traditional charm, but in the cities, it became a seasonal business, omnipresent on the shopping malls, streets or ar radio. In the rural part of Romania, the carolers will announce the Jesus birth a few days before and during Christmas time, and they will be rewarded with apples, walnuts and “covrigi”- the Romanian version of the pretzel.

Christmas carolers in Maramures
Christmas carolers in Maramures

Christmas in Romania is a family celebration, and normally on this day or on the eve, the whole family reunites together for the festive dinner, exchanging gifts and smiles. Besides the pork dishes presented before, for this special occasion, 2 other dishes are always present: sarmale – cabbage rolls stuffed with a mixture of minced meat and rice, and “salata de boeuf” – or the Russian salad made from chopped boiled potatoes, carrots, green peas, meat, pickled cucumbers and peppers, all mixed together with mayonnaise. For dessert, my mother always bakes the “cozonac” –  a type of sweet bread, with cocoa, walnut, raisins or Turkish delight filling.

Chistmas Dinner
Chistmas Dinner

Until New Year’s Eve party, the body has some time to recover from the heavy Christmas feast. New Year’s Eve party is celebrated among friends, either at someone’s home ( the old school or the cheapest way) or at a fancy restaurant or hotel. Like everywhere in the world, the passing between the years is marked with a glass of champagne and the fireworks show. The party last until the early morning, and usually continues the next day ( or days). We have also for this occasion specific carols, like “Sorcova”, “Plugusorul” or “Capra”. In some parts of Romania, the carolers are dressed in hideous costumes or in bear’s skin with bells, in an attempt to keep the evil spirits away or to bring good luck and fortune for the house they are visiting. It worth mentioning that the carols who are marking the passage of the years are not from a Christian origin, and they may be from a pagan origin, appearing in this land before Christianity.

The Bear's Dance
The Bear’s Dance

The winter holidays are ending in January the 7th, on Saint John’s day, preceded by the Epiphany, on the 6th, where the Orthodox priests are preparing and giving to the worshipers the Holly Water (agheasma) which is believed to have curatives and protective properties, if drunk in the morning, before eating. On the Epiphany’s day, in some parts of Romania, a cross is thrown by the priest in a freezing river, and a group or young men is swimming to retrieve it. It is believed that the one who returns back to shore with the cross will be absolved of all sins and will have good luck for the entire year.

The Epiphany in Sibiu
The Epiphany in Sibiu

For our guest who will want to have a first-hand winter experience in Romania, we can suggest checking the options of our Transylvanian Winter Tour. It can be a longer trip, for a thorough authentic experience, or a shorter one,  with only the highlights.

 

 

Easter traditions in Romania – a handy guide

Easter is one of the most important and most beautiful holidays of Christianity. Romania is predominantly a Christian country, Romanians belonging in their great majority to the Orthodox Christian rite, so Easter is a special event, who gathers friends and families together. The church is playing an important role in the community, a fact that can be seen every Sunday morning, when the churches are filled with worshipers.

Fasting. The preparation for Easter starts with 40 days in advance, with a period of dietary restrictions ( only vegan foods, with a few exceptions, when fish is allowed) and spiritual improvement . Although people are considering that only the diet is important, one of the most popular voices of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the father Necula from Sibiu, is telling us that “Fasting means talking less, working harder, loving each other more carefully, being more attentive to everything God has given us”.

The light – symbol of Resurrection, the light is the essential element of the Easter holiday.  During the Easter mass, on Sunday, at midnight, the priest comes from the altar with a candle  and share the flare with the worshipers, who are trying to keep their candle lit until the end of the mass. Most families keep the candle remaining after the mass and light it during the year if they have a great deal of trouble.

Funny fact. When the Romanians discovered text messaging via mobile phones, it become a tradition to send a SMS wish to all the agenda. 99% of the messages begun with ” May the light of….” .

Easter mass in Transylvania
Easter mass in Transylvania

Easter eggs. The egg is  a symbol of rebirth, adopted by early Christians as a symbol of the Resurrection of Jesus at Easter. The usual color of the painted egg is red, symbolizing Jesus blood, but in some regions of Romania the eggs are painted with very intricate designs, including floral and geometrical motifs.  A common game on Easter Day, not only for children, is to tap hard boiled eggs with each other to see which one has the strongest shell. Two eggs are tapped together, the first person saying, “Christ is risen,” and the second person saying, “Indeed He is risen.”

Easter painted egg
Easter painted eggs

Food. After 40 days of fasting, the Easter lunch is eagerly awaited. In Romania, all families are having lamb on the menu, cooked in different ways: from roasted lamb to soup, or “drob” a dish similar to haggis, made with lamb organs, eggs and season green onions. Pasca, is a sweet bread made with cheese and raisins, prepared only once a year, specially for Easter.

Pasca
Pasca

The sprinkling of girls. On the second day of Easter, in Transylvania, boys and men are visiting girls and unmarried women and spray them with perfume or cologne.  The boys carefully choose the girls they sprinkle with perfume. As a rule, they visit the girls they like the most and strive to impress them with an expensive perfume. The initial tradition, was to sprinkle the girls with water, symbol of purification, and is still used in some villages in Transylvania.

Spraying the girls
Spraying the girls with perfume

A unique tradition in Romania: the bathing of the Johns

If your name is John and you live in a small village near Sibiu, it’s very likely that you’ll get wet on January 7th. And, even if the water it’s freezing cold, no one is upset, on the contrary, everybody is happy and cheering. Actually, is an old tradition it the village of Talmacel, 20 km from Sibiu, where on Saint John’s Day, every person whose name is John, or derivations, is bathed on the small river who is flowing through the village. Well, not the whole body is immersed in the freezing water, just the tip of the boots. And after the ritualistic bathing, inspired by the facts of the Saint John the Baptist in the Bible, every one has to take a sip of “palinka” – a strong plum brandy that will heat your body instantly.

On St. John’s Day, preparations begin early in the morning, and the central points of the village are the households where the allegorical chariot and the horses are adorned. The chariot and the horses is adorned with fir tree branches, traditional carpets and tablecloths made by the women from the village. The decoration of the carriage takes a few hours and engages a large number of male and female participants.

The cortege in 2017

The Johns are dressed in the morning of the feast, putting on traditional costumes prepared in advance with great care, before going to the church. They also receive some incense bead, to protect them against the evil eye.

The Johns

At noon, after the religious service has ended, the colorful cortege starts from the household where the carriage has been adorned to the creek. At the creek, the whole community is gathering, and everybody tries to find a place as good as possible to view the ceremony. The first to be bathed is traditionally the priest of the village, followed by the mayor, the deputy mayor, then the lads and the girls whose is name John and then the remaining locals bearing the same name.

The priest is the first to be bathed
The priest is the first to be bathed

The bathing of the Johns is the same for all: the Johns are taken on the arms of two or three lads and are sank with their feet in the water of the stream. The operation is repeated two or three times, and to make the ceremony more engaging, the boys pretend to slip them in the water. After all the Johns have received their baptism, the boys, girls, locals and tourists head for the central point of the village: the square in front of the church. Here, the traditional dance takes place, according to the well-known order: “sârba”, “învârtita”, “haţegana”, “jiana” and “hora”.

Dancing after the bathing
Dancing after the bathing

A few impressions about my tours to Sarmisegetuza

In July  I met Barry, a retired priest from USA, who was visiting Romania for the fourth time, in his effort to learn Romanian language. We had a tour to Sarmisegetuza (Regia and Ulpia), Densus Church and the next day to Marginimea Sibiului. We spent hours discussing about religion, Latin languages, Romania’s history, Dacians and RomansSarmisegetuza Regia, and I have to admit, the tours were also an enriching experience for me as well. This year, the road to Sarmisegetuza was having a new layer of asphalt, and this allowed us to save time and we were able to linger more at Sarmisegetuza Ulpia Traiana, were we had the chance to participate at the Roman festival who was taking place in the amphitheater. At Densus, Barry discovered that his  friend, an Orthodox priest and teacher from Sibiu, was the former teacher at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology of  the father Alexander, the priest from Densus. We finished the day in the Small Square of Sibiu, having dinner together and having a very interesting discussion about religion and the differences between the  Christian churches.