Christmas, or 'Craciun' as it is known in Romanian, is a popular festival in Romania, which is observed with much fanfare and gusto. Though there were numerous traditions which were a part of Christmas celebration in Romania, things changed after World War II. In 1947, when Romania surrendered to USSR and was declared a communist republic, its citizens were forced to abandon many of their Christmas customs and rituals. Later, in 1989, when the country regained its independence, the festival was once more celebrated with full force. The country has successfully managed to bring back many of the earlier ways and traditions. Joyous atmosphere and sanctimonious practices have taken the center stage once again.
Christmas Celebrations in Romania
Christmas is considered as one of the most important religious holidays in Romania and is celebrated with great fanfare and enthusiasm. Talking about the traditions and rituals, 'Ignatius' is an important custom practiced in Romanian villages. According to this custom, a pig is sacrificed in every house, in the honor of Saint Ignatius. A pig is chosen especially to serve the purpose and is fed to make it grow fat. Five days before Christmas, i.e. on the 20th of December, the pig is sacrificed by cutting its throat with a sharp knife. This ceremony is performed at the backyard of the house. A small portion of the meat is immediately cooked and a feast is held.
Though Igantius ceremony is looked down upon as a barbaric custom in western countries, people in Romania believe that it is essentially practiced to ensure that the soul of the pig receives ample gratitude for the nourishment that it provides to all in the family. However, the real Christmas celebration starts on Christmas Eve, with the decoration of the Christmas tree. Unlike America, Romanian children open the Christmas gifts in the evening of Christmas Eve. Mos Craciun (Romanian Santa Claus) is believed to deliver the gifts. A common and popular gift is knot-shaped bread, which, in Romania, symbolizes an abundant harvest.
Singing carols is another activity that Romanian people revel in. Children flock from one house to another, singing Christmas carols such as Steaua (The Star', Trei Pastori (The Three Shepherds) and Mos Craciun (Santa Claus). On the first Christmas Day, carolers are seen walking through the streets, carrying a star made of cardboard and paper on which are depicted various scenes from the Bible. An image of the Nativity is pasted on the center of the star, which is attached to the end of a broom or stout pole. These carolers are offered apples, nuts, traditional cakes and money by people. Adding to the religious fever are the Romanian folklores that abound with Christmas carols.
Romanian women start cooking three days prior to the Christmas Day, as Christmas dinner is usually a rich, multi-course meal. The dishes consist of pickled cabbage leaves stuffed with a combination of pork and beef, along with rice, pepper, thyme and other spices. Other dishes to follow are roasted pork and turkey with red wine. To top it all is an assortment of pork sausages, along with plum brandy and home made pickles. 'Sarmale', an indispensable item for the festive dinner, is also present. Wine is also present to celebrate the birth of Lord Jesus. And if all these were not enough, Romanians have, 'cozonaci', a cake filled with nuts and raisins as a dessert.