A white Christmas full of joy near a fire tree, decorated with many colored lights, is a wonderful dream for everybody. For Christians living all over the world it is the greatest religious event of the year. In Romania, people still keep alive wonderful Christmas (Craciun) traditions for celebrating Christ’s birth. In the folk culture there are 12 holy days between December 25 and January 6 (when it is celebrated Boboteaza – when water is transformed into wine and has miraculous healing power). Each day is a symbol for a month of the next year (25 means January, 26 represents February and so on). You may try to follow this old Romanian habit : on December 24 take a big onion and split it in two halves. Then choose 12 pieces, arrange them on a table (as cups) and salt each of them inside. Don’t touch the onion leafs until January 6. The juice content will show you how large will be the quantity of precipitation every month of the next year. It is a simple method for prediction the weather, isn’t it? You must know that origins of this magic onion calendar are lost somewhere in the centuries.
In the previous weeks before Christmas, Orthodox people prepare themselves spiritually and physically by a severe fasting. As a remark, at the countryside peasants don’t use the same pots as they did before entering in this fasting period. Adults and children older than seven don’t eat certain food (meat, cheese, eggs, milk) and try to have a clean aspect and a respectful behavior. Even sexual relations are forbidden during this time. Also people must pray a lot and go to church more often than usually. Two or three days before Christmas, in Romanian houses smells good because women prepare special food. Exceptional dishes appreciated by foreigners are cabbage rolls (Sarmale). Also every family will have on the table a sweet bread called “Cozonac“. In some regions, women cook big bread as a symbol of Jesus body. They decorate it with flowers, branches, leafs, birds and a small sun made from dough. This magic bread is kept on a separate table until the morning of the first day of the New Year. In this special morning, after making a small cross on the back, the oldest women in the house cuts it in four equal pieces. She gives a piece of bread to the children under seven coming to the door with wishes for this New Year (Plugusorul), another piece is for the animals in the stable and the rest is eaten by family members before anything else.
On 24th of December, children are waiting Santa Claus (Mos Craciun) near a beautiful fir tree full of lights, colored balls and candies. Decorating a Christmas tree lasts for four centuries but in the 19th century that habit was widely spread in the world. Before receiving gifts, children have to sing carols (Colinde – after the Latin word “calendae“) that they have learned since mid December. More than 300 years ago, in the South Eastern European territory appeared a beautiful type of songs named carols. In this way you can make wishes to your dear ones, to your neighbors and even to unknown people. In many villages, young people form one large group lead by a captain (called Vataf). This is the most handsome, strong, smart and hardworking bachelor in the area. So on December 24, early in the afternoon, children start singing carols at every door they meet in their road. Parents, grandparents and neighbors invite them inside the house. It is an ancient belief that giving something to your guests in the Christmas Eve will help their wishes become real next year. That’s why children receive nuts, ring-shaped bread, apples and money. Around midnight come to sing carols young men. They wear their best clothes and they carry green branches of firetrees decorated with traditional towels. First carol will be sung in the house of the most respected family in the village. There is all kind of carols: for older ones, for singles and even for children because through these words they wish healthy, abundance, great crops and a good husband or wife – it depends. Early in the morning of 25th of December, it is the turn for older men to go from house to house. These carols are only religious remembering the star that was shining in the sky when Jesus was born or scenes from His life. Sometimes instruments accompany them. As a reward they receive a glass of wine and a piece of “cozonac“.
In Maramures region it is found a very beautiful carol about “white apple flowers” (flori dalbe de mar). Perhaps it is the most famous Romanian carol abroad. The lines are inspired from an old tradition here. In the Saint Andrew’s night (November 30th) people cut apple branches and put them in the water near the window. In this way, guests singing carols can see apple flowers on the table in this holy night of Christmas. In Romanian folk culture, apple tree is magic having the significance of knowledge, hope, youth and regeneration of life. For this reason each Christmas it is good to have in your house apple flowers.
On December 25 people are going to the church to celebrate Jesus Christ’s birth. At the countryside, they usually wear beautiful folk costumes. During the next two days, it is a habit to visit your parents, relatives and best friends and also to receive many guests in your house.
For tourists, Christmas is a unique opportunity to enter in a magic white world where they may find lost rituals. Tasting specific Romanian dishes is an unforgettable experience combined with people’s warmth and hospitality. Lights are shining on streets, buildings and houses. People greet each other with “Craciun fericit!” which can be translated as “Merry Christmas!“.