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 this post is about the way we, the Romanians, celebrate 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.