Sunday, 26 December 2010
„Winter Celebrations at the time of Our Parents and Grand-parents” by PhD Georgeta Adam in the European Project "Elderly Memories"
CHRISTMAS REPORT ROMANIA
„Winter Celebrations at the time of Our Parents and Grand-parents”
Between November, 20 and December, 20, 2010, a number of 151 people were subject to this questionnaire in Romania: 91 aged 15-30 and 60 over the age of 70. A larger number of young people volunteered to take part in it.
Out of the total number, 110 respondents are female and 41 are male, therefore a larger number of the former group volunteered. The respondents cover a wide range of school education, from elementary, to middle and higher education. None of the interviewed people have fewer than 7 elementary school classes.
In percentages, out of the 151 subjects (100%), 110 are female (72.8%), and 41 are male (27.15%), 91 are young (60.26%), and 60 are elderly adults (39.3%), 80 are village residents (52.98%), and 71 people are city residents (47.01%).
The survey was made in Bucharest (38 respondents, 25.16%, 28 female, 10 male, 4 young, 34 elderly over the age of 70), Sibiu (42, of which 28 female, 14 male, 42 young – 27.81%), Constanta (40, of which 31 female, 9 male, 29 young, 11 elderly over the age of 70 – 26.49%) and in Ploiesti (31, of which 23 female, 8 male, 16 young, 15 elderly over 70 – 20.52%).
The people involved in the administration of the questionnaires and local reports were: 4 undergraduate students from “Lucian Blaga” University of Sibiu , Faculty of Letters and Arts (Ass. Prof. Gabriela Nistor, PhD), and 2 from the Faculty of Journalism, “Ovidius” University of Constanta (Assoc. Prof. Aurelia Lapusan, PhD); Agripina Grigore, teacher of Ploiesti; Mihaela Constantin, senior journalist at Radio Romania, 68 years old; Sofia Sincan, senior journalist, 70 years old, Radio Romania; Rodica Anghel, PhD, National Council for the Audio-Visual, Bucharest, 50 years old; Ioan Adam, PhD, 64 years old, member of the Romanian Writers Union.
English versions: Gabriela Nistor, PhD, Ass. Prof., “Lucian Blaga” University of Sibiu, Robert Adam, PhD, staff Ariadna, Rodica Anghel, PhD, Dana Macovei, theacher Ploieşti.
Investigation and final report co-ordination: Georgeta Adam, PhD.
Due to the various origins of the respondents, we appreciate that the area considered for research is nationwide, because references regarding the winter celebration concern the cities Bucharest, Ploiesti, Sibiu, Constanta, Brad, but the rural areas are quite varied: aspects from counties of Muntenia (Arges, Buzau, Ilfov, Ialomita, and Prahova) are presented and from southern Moldova (counties Galati and Vaslui/Barlad), Dobrogea, Transylvania (Marginimea Sibiului, West Carpathian area and East Carpathian).
As to house decorations, there is an obvious difference between the past and the present, between the rural and the village areas. As a rule, one can notice that customs and norms of the modern era have been implemented progressively. For example, the Christmas tree, which did not exist in Romania before the early 1900s, is now present all over the country. Some elderly over 70 years of age, though, mention the fact that until the mid-20th c., Christmas trees didn’t use to decorate village houses, and the villagers preferred fir tree branches to decorate the doorjambs and gates. In towns, starting with the mid-1950s, Christmas trees were placed in central squares for New Year, under the urge of the communist authorities, which would celebrate at that time the coming of Jack Frost/Mos Gerila (Dez Moroz), after Soviet inspiration. He would come in a sleigh pulled by two stags, not reindeer, and would get into people’s houses through the chimney. However, implicitly defying official orders, people would get Christmas trees (on the 25th of December), always a very important religious holiday with the Romanians. Some elderly people remember house decorations with adorned fir trees, in geographical areas where they used to grow, with tinfoil stars, colored paper chains, decorations made by the children, small candles, handmade decorations, fireworks. In Moldova, but not only, people used to decorate the Christmas tree with the pig swollen bladder. In villages with no electricity, there were no street decorations either. The windows used o be lit by candles and decorated with small fir trees or green branches. People in some villages used to light gas lamps at the gates, while in others (in Arges, southern Romania), the gate pillars were decorated with fir trees bound with colored paper and silver tinsel. The elderly recall Christmas trees in town, decorated with colored paper, a big star on its top, placed in the central plaza. An elderly lady remembers that in towns, young lads used to hang a small fir tree twig bound with the national colors on their chest or on their cap.
In the rural area, below the Southern Carpathians, in Poiana Campina, Prahova, the answer of a journalist in his 70s, M.B., is to be noted for the genuineness of his feelings and accuracy of memories. According to him, the local people “would put fir tree twigs both outside and inside their houses, stuck to the curtain rails. In addition, there was a Christmas tree inside the house. The streets didn’t use to be decorated, but if the snow was high, they used to part it leaving a wide path, using the plow of the village mayoralty.”
An 80-year-old writer from Bucharest, N.G., author of novels in the memoirs fashion which were extremely popular in Romania, answered our questionnaire, and pointed out an essential element: “Before any decoration, the winter holidays were preceded by rigorous cleaning up, started within the house, and ended at the gate of the courtyard. The decoration was quite simple: 1. The Christmas tree and the children’s presents, and 2. Mistletoe twigs (usually placed before New Year’s Eve, as it was considered to bring good luck).”
Standardization of the decorations becomes visible in the case of the answers given by the youth. As regards indoor decorations, they merely mention bows and glass globes, all of them mentioning the decorated Christmas tree in the main room as a first home decoration, as well as fir tree twigs in the other rooms. A case of customs syncretism, the Christmas trees now have electric decorations, with many colored bulbs, coronets, colored globes, bows, decorative candles, St Nicholas’ stockings where the presents are placed, the good luck bringing mistletoe, tinsels, garlands, snowflakes, cut out and stuck on windows. In villages, fewer decorations are mentioned: electric garlands suspended on poles, or, here and there, multicolored electric wreaths on buildings. Fir trees decorated with garlands are mentioned in fir tree planted areas. The towns are more animated and more richly adorned. In the streets, there are electric wreaths and flamboyant ornaments. There are a lot of decorated Christmas trees, with electric wreaths, garlands, parks and sparkling shop windows. Since St Nicholas Day until the Twelfth Night, the Children’s Amusement Park is open, offering entertainment, and the Children’s Tram takes them on free tours. In squares, artists play artistic moments, sing carols, light fireworks, and special services take place in churches.
2. The Most Important Moments of the Winter Holidays
The advent calendar in Romania is marked by religious events and rituals, as well as by lay rituals, like: St Nicholas (December 6), Christmas Fast, the confession, the sacrament, St Ignatius (December 20), caroling, Christmas, the Star, the New Year’s Night, New Year caroling (Plugusorul), wish making with Sorcova, the Epiphany (January 6). Judging by the answers received, the ranking is: Christmas, New Year, and the Epiphany.
The youth mention: St Nicholas Day, St Ignatius Day (pig sacrifice on December, 6), an ancient Thracian ritual, Christmas, New Year’s Night, New Year’s Day, the “Buna dimineata la Mos Ajun” visit, Christmas tree decoration, Plugusorul, going and getting caroling, family dinner, family reunion, the winter holidays, friends entertainment, the Epiphany. Special consideration is paid by the youth to St (Patron) Stefan’s Day, St (Patron) Filofteia’s Day, St (Patron) Basil’s Day, St (Patron) John’s Day (January, 7). Some holidays are important because members of their family bear the names of these saints. For most youth, Christmas ranks first among winter celebrations. Following the communist atheist crisis, the religious feeling is visibly reviving among the younger generation and not only. Both categories have special consideration for the religious aspect of the holiday. The winter celebrations are regarded as opportunities for the family to meet their kin, godchildren, godparents, friends and neighbors. These meetings take place in church, during the religious services, as well as in families, in parents’ or grandparents’ houses. Some of those interviewed mention the meetings in the village lanes or in front of the Village Hall.
The journalist M.B., well into his 70s, made the following ranking of these winter celebrations, which he spent in Poiana Câmpina, a village in the Prahova county:
1. Sacrificing the pig grown in own household and preparing the pork products;
2. The day when the sponge cakes were baked;
3. Decorating the Christmas tree;
4. “the Priest with Christmas” (the priest of the village would visit the villagers with an icon representing the birth of Christ. The tradition required that householders should meet it with humiliation, but sitting on the bed.);
5. The carols;
6. The Christmas presents.
II. St Nicholas’ Day (December, 6)
Polishing one’s shoes on the eve and finding the presents inside them the next morning.
III. New Year’s Night
Members of the wishers’ groups would acquire a lot of bells, strung on a leather strap, as well as a bigger bell, “acioaia”, which only the spokesman of the wishers’ group would use. They would then manufacture drums out of old big sifts, covered with dry lamb skin, tightly stretched since their sacrifice at Easter, braiding the whips and the whip lashes. After that, of course, wishing with the “Plugusor” followed, exclusively at the houses of the acquaintances.
On the opposite side, the octogenarian novelist N.G. from Bucharest focuses on the lay character of the Christmas celebration: “Christmas had, indeed, a religious significance, but the lay character would prevail in the development of the celebrations. In most households around, a pig was sacrificed. The scarification was followed by very minute preparations: the fillets, the bacon, and the sausages would go to the smoke house, while the rest of the meat, previously fried, would go to ‘garnitze’ (a kind of bucket, used to carry milk or food) (where they used to stay in melted fat until spring).”
3. Where Did People Use to Meet?
The Romanians are an outgoing and welcoming people. Foreign travelers to the Romanian Principalities 500 years ago, as well as recent ones, can witness that most truthfully. During the winter celebrations, the Romanians preferred (and still do) small group meetings, within the family. Christmas used to be and continues to be a home celebration. The young subjects still keep an accurate record of the traditions, though they continue to lose ground, especially in towns. In older days, traditions would be very strictly obeyed. In this respect, we can mention a thorough answer of the septuagenarian journalist M.B.: “People used to meet in their own homes, paying visits to one another, especially at noon time. They rarely if ever visited in the evening. As a rule, parties would break around 7-8 p.m. On Christmas day, visits were not paid, and only the family, parents and children, would take part in the traditional “festive dinner”. The parents-in-law, if still living, would join them for the party. There were six pubs in the village. They were all closed during the winter celebrations, no one would drop in, and they had no customers until after the Epiphany (January, 6). Only one pub used to open the next day after New Year’s Day, where billiards gamers would meet and play for small sums. As a rule, mostly elderly women and children used to go to the two churches, and would leave their sleighs out on the entrance stairs.”
Our 82-year-old respondent, the writer N.G., born in a well-to-do bourgeois family, lays the same stress on celebrating at home, with family and kin: “Parties used to be given within the family. I do not recall ever going out to a restaurant. People used to stay at their own home, happy to welcome guests. In our house, close relatives would come (uncles, aunts, cousins), as well as all the godchildren, quite a number. The celebrations would strengthen family relationships, and quite often, the one in a fix was taken out (pulled out of trouble) and supported (in time, the children, reaching important positions, would inherit these reports). We, the offspring, used to be sent to a separate room, where, after dinner, we used to play at will, happy to have got rid of parental care (and vice-versa). Welcoming hosts, it was then our turn to go visiting godparents, brothers and sisters of our parents. During the three days of Christmas, later on New Year’s Night, there was a continuous coming and going. Children used to get presents, as a rule. (It was only on New Year that the godchildren would present the godparents with a turkey, ribbon bound around its neck.)”
Visible behavior shifts are to be noted among the youth. Even if some respondents mention participation in the Christmas religious service in churches, most of them state they have spent Christmas, and New Year at their godparents’, grandparents’, at home, and especially in clubs/bars, at the house of friends from the same generation.
Trips used to be made within the same locality or to nearby localities to celebrate Christmas or people bearing the names of the St Patrons celebrated during this time. Those participating in the parties given on St John’s Day (January, 7) are quite a number, considering that about 2,000,000 Romanians are called Ion, or derivatives: Ioana, Ionel, Nelu, Ioaneta, Ioanete. Television channels broadcast special entertainment shows for them. A lady remembers with very much excitement the trips to parents, grandparents, relatives, on January 2 and 3, in a sleigh pulled by a stallion wearing jingling bells around his neck.
The younger people recall several-day trips, from town to village, to their grandparents. Some of them got into the use of going to mountain resorts, to rural inns, monasteries, as well as trips abroad (Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, and Spain).
As far as food is concerned sarmale ( pork meat ball wrapped in cabbage leaves), rank first. In the Arges county the cooks place smoked pork ribs on top, while the Southern Moldavians use vine leaves instead of cabbage leaves. Beef can be used to prepare sarmale as well. Sarmale are usually served with polenta. Cooking tradition has been well preserved in time. This tradition also includes: pork sour soup with brine or borsh, chicken and turkey soups, meat balls soup, tripe soup, pork jelly, fried or fire roasted sausages, thick sausage, white pudding, liver sausage, pork stake with pickles, pork stew with polenta, smoked sausages, smoked bacon, smoked pork bone with prunes, sloi, that is, sirloin with lard on top smoked and fried in a ceramic pot, smoked sausages fried with omlette in a pan, eaten with polenta, pork cooked in the oven, grill, scrambled eggs, rind, pork pudding, beef salad (new course in the Romanian cuisine introduced in 1945 in “ The Illustrated Reality “magazine, which published the recipe), babic ( a kind of mutton salami), ghiuden (hot mutton and beef sausage, similar to the Spanish chorizo, cheese, roast chicken and turkey , served with pickled cucumbers, tomatoes or small water melons and sauerkrat.
Such dishes go well with boiled brandy spiced with pepper and laurel leaves and red wine. There is a generous offer in this field in Romania.
As far as sweets are concerned, the tradition mentions cozonac(pound cake) with nuts filling and raisins, or Turkish delight , jam cookies, jolfa cakes ( with hemp seeds), ginger, cheese pie, pumpkin pie, dough nuts with humorous notes and money introduced inside, cookies, big pretzels, Polish pretzels prepared from cozonac dough, cakes, students’bread, a sponge cake with lots of nuts, baklava, which is specific for Dobrudja area, quinces jelly. Born in Transylvania, I.B., the septuagenarian writer, mentions pupuri, among other rural delicacies, which is a sort of white bread with cooked cabbage, cheese and onion. In Moldavia, the kind peasants offered rolls as alms, called Jesus’ diepers, which were covered with honey and sprinkled with grounded nuts.
Mention should also be made of the journalist’s childhood memories named MB. He wrote about the traditional food, sweets and drinks that accompanied the winter holidays in the Prahova county, Poiana Campina area. Traditional food for winter holidays meals: roasted rind on staw fire, thin belly bacon pieces boiled in brine, or in water with apple vinegar , pepper, salt and laurel leaves. Golden pork scraps, , liver sausage, white pudding , thick sausages, sarmale, semi-smoked sausages, pork and chicken jelly, roast pork, pork’s alms, potroace soup ( sour chicken soup).
The superstitions prohibited the duck, goose and venison meat, even the rabbits, except for the turkey. Various salads. Sweets: pound cake with poppy seeds, with a layer of nut as thick as a finger, cookies with Turkish delight or homemade jam, salt sticks, tender biscuits prepared with lard, little apple, cheese or meat pies, fruit stew made of plums dried on wattled twigs called lojnita, pears, apples and quinces preserved in the cellar or on window sills, grapes preserved on straw in the attic, melons kept in plaster casts, pretzels made of pound cake dough, ordinary pretzels. Oranges were seldom served. Drinks: caraway liqueur, lemon juice for children, plum or apple brandy and wine for adults. They used soda bottles made of thick glass wit a pump system tap, which were filled at the pub.
The octogenarian writer, N.G., emphasizes the charm of the former winter holidays in Bucharest: “Everywhere -the same food. A small glass of plum brandy with pepper was accompanied by rind, thick sausage, liver sausage and white pudding, cheered up with a glass of wine. Then pork jelly, sarmale and polenta, steak and pickles, everyone eating according to taste and belly capacity. It seems too much, but lunch lasted until late at night. The sweets were dominated by the delicious pound cake with nut and raisins. Here were also apple and cheese pies, cakes and fancy cakes. The Bairam ended with fruits, different sorts of cheese, which were preferred by the men to maintain the wine race. The same writer mentions a forgotten tradition: the nougat ceremony. One can hardly find nougat in shops today. Nougat is a Romanian variant of the Turkish halvah, which adds nuts and hazel nuts. This mixture is laid between two dough layers. The writer Ioan Adam remembers the persistence of this custom in the outskirts of Bucharest in the 1960’s. The pieces of nougat usually contained 1 leu or 5 lei coins of the communist era or silver coins belonging to the inter-wars period and were hanged and swung on the ceiling. The people around had to catch them with their mouths, a difficult operation that required good chance and skill.
The old people remember the open-topped flat pie, made of cheese, cut with durita, a small kitchen tool, not to be found in the shops any more. They also remember the pumpkin pie, favourite of the Moldavians, the dry sponge fingers made of unrisen dough, shaped in the meat mincing machine. In Dobrudja, where there are Turks, A-Romanians and Macedo-Romanians, anusabur and pelitza were prepared. The former was a liquid sort of boiled wheat with honey and nuts distributed at funerlas in the memory of the deceased with fruits and hazelnuts and the latter was sweet jelly with vanilla and cinnamon.
The younger generation preserves the pound cake, cheese pie with lucky humorous notes inside, nut and apple pies, pretzels and cookies. This category has a wider range of items: fruits ( nuts, apples), baked apples, cakes with sweet cream, biscuits , fancy cakes, chocolate candies, cookies, sponge cakes, apple fancy cake, with sweet cream, fruit pies with sour cherries, pineapple and kiwi.
Talking about presents, there are few questionnaires that do not mention them. As a rule there were the children who got presents from their parents and grandparents .Sometimes their parents and grandparents offered presents to one another, too.
The old ones remember the presents they used to get when they were children themselves. The boys used to get balls and small carts made at home, knitted woolen socks, scarves and gloves, small sheepskin sleeveless fur jackets, highboots, boots and caps. The girls used to get dolls, knitted woolen caps, gloves and scarves, small highboots and boots and other clothes items, such as red shoes, lace dresses made at home, which they used to wear on Christmas Day, when they went to church. Everyone got sweets as well. Sometimes, father or another man handled them the presents, playing the Santa Claus in disguise.
In his answer, M. B., the journalist, find details and memories about events seen and lived in a Romanian traditional village 60 years before. So, about presents, he mentioned: “The parents offered each other presents and together offered presents to their children, too. Each family member knew what the other person needed and the present was meant to meet that need. There could be a Philips radio set with valves for mother, a fur collar for father’s short winter coat, skates, sledges, skies for the children, as well as gloves, woolen or sheepskin caps, pullovers, scarves, knee length socks, socks and others. Winter clothes for children up to 12-13 years of age was sort of “unisex” style, only the Easter season distinguished between girls’ and boys’ clothes. We all knew the source of the presents, but we all boasted about having been remembered by St. Nicholas, Santa or New Year that time, too.
The correspondents in the range of 15-30 year olds mention the following presents: toy cars, toy horses, boots, sheepskin jackets, plush toys, clothes, books to practice colouring, reading books for boys, dolls, clothes, books, teddy bears, jewels and cosmetics for girls. Everyone got sweets and perfume bottles.
In Bucharest the hosts used to offer presents to the guests and the guests to the hosts. Here, where the economic development is at the top, the presents are more sophisticated, consisting in cosmetics, luxury drinks, monuments and weapons in miniature, story books, art books, decorative objects, dolls with clothes sets, puzzle games, clothes, blocks, electric toy cars, wooden horses, chocolate boxes, candy boxes, shoes, laces cut from the grandmothers’ petticoats, brought by vintage in fashion again, adornments and jewels. In the recent period, when the social equality has disappeared and the consuming society has got more demanding, at the highest social level the Christmas and New Year meetings are prepared in advance, the men and women displaying their luxurious clothes and expensive presents.
Winter holidays awaken mixed feelings in the old people’s hearts. They still remember the sad years of communism. In the country occupied by the Russians the pound cake was eaten in secret, it had no filling, the carols were forbidden, religion was persecuted and the liberty of expression totally absent. Nevertheless they still feel joy, hope, optimism, gratefulness and a longing to be a child again together with the dear ones who are no longer in this world, wishing quietness and inner peace. Such feelings stimulate their capacity of charity, generosity and action to help the poor, the homeless, the orphans and the old people in social homes. The young ones spend the winter holidays with feelings of joy, hope, faith, peacefulness, cheerfulness, fulfillment, being happy to be together with their families for the events.
In the questionnaire achieved by M.B., a 70 years old journalist, intense feelings lived in childhood are evoked :”a huge joy” ( a sort of Carpe diem ) is mentioned, as well as gratitude. In summer time, we, the children, used to play in the forest. We looked for the wood cutters and asked them to cut round pieces of beech or oak trunks. If they were in a good mood, we got them free. If not, they asked us to render them different services, such as bringing food in the next days, or collect beech nuts for their animals at home. These pieces of wood were a sort of discs 1-2 cm wide having a diameter of about half a meter. We used to call them money. We wrote on the obverse and on the reverse of the “coins’ in ink and with capital letters our thanks to our parents, who had to transmit them to our ancestors (Santa Claus, Nicholas). This custom was preserve in time, but only for celebrations and anniversaries. In September 2010 I got myself such a “birthday card”.
Another opinion with reference to tradition, but intellectually processed, belongs to E. I., a 70 year old she journalist from Radio Romania Broadcasting. She says: ”There is a feeling of permanence, of preserving ancestral customs, in the traditional village, which were not lost. It represents an element of stability in this unstable, aggressive, possessive and greedy world. I think that the traditions of a village community can be also preserved by organizing festivals with neighbouring zones, an opportunity to highlight the folk song and dance in its most authentic form”.
8. Charitable Deeds
Among the charitable deeds, the elderly remember about the gifts made to the godsons or those less fortunate, food for needy families or the baskets with gifts, consisting in clothing, shoes, toys and sweets brought to the orphanages.
We were quoting again the reply of the journalist M.B., as significant for “the memory of the elderly” and the beauty of those sediments memories due to the passage of time: “I don’t remember charitable deeds. It is not excluded to have existed needy, but I have never seen beggars at Poiana Campina, even to the church door, only lately. Or they didn’t reveal their poverty, or they ashamed very hard, or, simply, they have food to survive.
The settlement was what we called once a village with a factory (Astra Romanian had been repairing oil equipment, it had been established with German capital and with a handful of German craftsmen in 1899, it was taken over by Anglo-Dutch capital in 1911, it was bankrupt by the Romanian employers in 2010). Residents worked for the factory, but also for their household.
They had money for the “salary” and “food from the yard and up the hill” (in the gardens on the hill everybody grew what they wanted, including maize and plum, plum many...). They had an authentic labor thought, born, not made, which had copied an authentic peasant thought, born, not made!
Not accidentally, in 1940, the great sociologist Dimitrie Gusti, in the presence of King Carol II, he inaugurated the National Peasant School at Poiana Campina.
Winter holiday habits have been transmitted and they were more preserved on the peasant “side”. With Christmas carols were walking only the children who were 13 years old, and with the Plugusor the teenagers, even the older. Bands of carolers were formed by groups of no more than six children, four boys and two girls.
Mandatory, they had to wander the priest, the mayor, the school principal, the first teacher of the six, only known families
Parents of the group were caroled last. They didn’t have ever to wander over 22.00 hours. Unlike those who went to the Plugusorul, carolers never received money, but only apples, pretzels, nuts and quince, which you get from the hosts. They were never received into the house, only to doors or windows. Yard dog, if it was not tied and walks freely, it was a sign that the carolers will not be received.”
IB, septuagenarian writer, mentions that in his childhood spent in a village in Transylvania they used to receive as gifts and caroling corobete (dried apples). Among younger people, a questionnaire mentioned in what consist the donations: collecting objects, money, toys and clothing for the largest centers of orphans.
In so far as customs are concerned one of the individuals in the youth group mentioned the Christmas carol, and another person in Arges belonging to the elderly group stated that: ‘ the group of persons singing Christmas carols used to be accompanied by a clarinet singer.
When it comes to society games and traditions, the elderly mention the masks’ games: that of the Tipcat, or of the Stag, the Goat game and another one called “Malanca” (which used to be played on December 31st, on St. Melanie’s Day), the Bear Game, the ritual games such as: the dance played by the Horses of by the Little Horses, the songs about the Star, such as the one called the Herodes ( reminding King Herod who had slaughtered the newborns ), the so called Vicleimul (a Romanian word derived from Bethlehem) the Manger, the folk theatre focused on outlawry themes (the so called Jienii, Mocănaşii).
On the first day of the New Year children used to go out and poetically wishing people a Happy New Year along life, hapiness, health and a bright mind by touching them with a branch or a stick adorned with artificial flowers, or bells called „Sorcova” ; the adult people used to carry a little lamb, called Vasilca, (after the same of Saint Basil celebrated on the 1st of January) together with some corn straws which had been planted on Saint Andrew’s Day ( who is also the the Saint that christianized the Romanian people and is being celebrated on Novermber 30th) and a pig leg.
Elder boys used to go with the so called Litthe Plough, on New Year’s Eve, while the grown ups used to go with the Plough, the girls used to knit whips from hemp threads on top of which the placed floss silk made by cocoons.
Among traditions, the young one mentioned the Little Plough, Jienii, the Star, Mocanasii, the Goat, and Seeding (children used to spread seeds in their hosts’ houses while wishing them health for the New Year!)in areas in the Southers Moldova, precisely in villages such as Rogojeni in district Galati, the Little Plough and the Goat being customary also in areas such as la Bertea-Prahova, as well as in Tarculesti, on Cricovului Valley, where one may also encouter New Year’s Eve and the Little Wheat, on the 1st of January.
Although, quite careless and amnesic in regard to other issues, the local authorities have been lately quite careful about treasuring folk traditions. The comments provided by the journalist (cominf from Radio Romania) belonging to the elderly group bring to attention the way these traditions are being capiatlized in the so called : Romania’s country brand. These areas extremely profound in so far as traditions and customs are concerned have become part of the UNESCO protected areas. The journalist also mentiones some of them: „ 1-The Celebrations in Maramues, an area which has become a touristic brand. They are unique European tradition. UNESCO protected monuments in Maramures have become for the inhabitants of the villages in this area true cultural and religious centers, places where traditions, celebrations and folk festivals unfold. 2. The Celebrations in the area called Marginimea Sibiului (Sibiu Neighbouring Areas). Old traditions are being treasured in detail; starting with December 6th, when rehearsals grouped on age categories start, each playing its part or with traditional dances and songs which have been passed over from generation to generation.
Teachers are actively involved in unfolding these events (for instance, the events taking place in Gura Râului). In Saliste, for instance, it has been proposed that during music classes come dressed in the traditional costumes in order to make this a way of preserving folk costumes. During celebrations the grown ups, as well, also get dressed in the traditional folk costumes. The peak of traditional events and traditional celebrations is riched here at the end of December. The festival of the Young People to Be Married (Festivalul Junilor) has been created. This is the time when Young People in 5-6 neighbouring districts gather and bring their specific songs and dances.”
10. The most popular Songs
The Christmas Carols have a tradition counted in centuries in Romania. The testimonies made by foreigners confirm the existence of these carols even since the middle of the XVII-th century, but they must be older that that, for sure. To this end, we mention the testimonies made in 1647 by Andreas Mathesius, a German minister/pastor who wrote that the inhabitants of the then called Vahalia living in Transilvania villages do not want to learn the Carols and keep singing their „devilish” songs learnt from their great-gransfathers. In so far as carol singing custom in towns a Syrian deaocon mentions them in 1650, while he was travelling during the 1650-1660 along the Romanian Principalities. The carols make a naive mentioning of the Biblical scenes, which are nevertheless quite relevant from an artistic point of view. The carol singers were accompanied ( some of them are still being accompanies, even nowadays) by one or by several musical instruments (flute, violin, drum, clarinet). The carol was sung by all singers at the same time.
In some areas in Muntenia, the carol used to be sung in an antiphonic way, the music being interpreted by two or several groups.
Apart from the religious carols there are also secular carols on topics regarding the Universe. Among the most well known carols, the most widely mentioned is the one entitled “ White Flowers” (some alternative versions of this song starting with the verses, on the Shiny Path in Maia-Ialomita). The elderly remember songs such “Oh What a Wonderful News!”, “Or Wake up Big Boyards!” Or Wake up Hosts, do not fall asleep!”, “The Star”, “Up in front of the Heaven Gate” ,,Lerui, ler”, ,,Sorcova”, „Wedding in Gana Galilei”, „Goods Morning on New Years’ Eve !”.
The poet H.B. born in Aref, Arges County mentions three carols: : „Domnului, domnului, domn!”, „Ziurel de ziuă” si „Steaua sus rasare”,, while theseptuagenarian writer and diplomat I.B. born in a beautiful area in Transilvania near Tarnava Mica remembers also other carols: „Three Shepherds” and „From One House to Another” .
The subjects in the youth group frequently mention the carols : „The Star”, „What a Beautiful Firtree”, „Santa Clause with White Locks”, then „Three Shepherds” „Open up Your Door Fellow Christian” „ White Flowers”, „What a Wonderful News”, „This is the Day Jesus was Born” (aslo mentioned as In Betleem Jesus was Born”), ,,Domn, Domn sa-naltam !”, ,,Good Morning on New Year’s Eve!” We have also encountered the name of the song „Sledge with Bells”, which is not a carol. It is Romanian folk song which has gained international fame, several gym exercises in the Olympic games unfolding on this tune.
11. Unforgettable memories
Among these unforgettable memories, the elderly mention the trust they used to place in the magic power of these celebrations, the Romanian custom of slaughtering the pig, the herds of carol singers whom grandparents used to offer apples, knot-shaped bread, the trip by the sledge pulled by horses, from their native village in Maia and their grandparents village in Dridu and the children’s joy receiving money, nuts, applles and grapes. They used to burn candles ]n the fir three and also on the coffin. Father cried only once in his life. Time has diminished the pain of this memory. The same lady also remembers unforgetable trips by sledge, pulled by horse having some bells around the neck on the way to neighbouring villages, to their relatives. There were four of them in the family, quite close in age, two boys and two girls.
The septuagenary H.B has made comments on magic moments of Christmas till Twelfth Night in the comunity of the Romanian traditional village in the hills: „ The widest and most profound signification out of all winter celebrations, Christmas, includes a series of moments involving the entire community. The entire series of these events opened with the herds of children on Christams Eve, the so called carols with the unforgetable „Good Morning on Christmas Eve !” under the whips song. The herds that used to build „village districts” and to abide by their territories. Should these territories be trespassed , huge rivalries were born. All these herds used to pay visits to the village notabilities, the priest, the teacher, the notary and the mayor. In exchange for their songs children used to get various types of bread, apples and nuts.
On Christmas Eve it was the turn of the unmarried boys, lead by a group leader, an older one that the rest of the group who had coordinated the carol rehearsal for weeks on end. The used to sing by the dogma with unpaired skills. They used to come by the windows where the candles were lit and to start singing in order to bring the news of Christ’s birth. The songs were listened to in great silence and emotion. When the carol ended the lamp was raised and the head of the family came out to receive the singers who were offired money and a local specific alcoholic drink „Tuica”.
On Cristmas Day children were coming to people’s houses dressed in colored clothes and to play a popular theatrical part or to brear the Star or to sing the Star Shines High, a specific song about Jessus’ birth.
On New Years Eve several groups of children, but mostly young men were celebrating a popular custom called Plugusorul, a ritualic custom regarding wealth in the coming year. It was the time for a recital and a show with lots of movement and sounds marked by the noise of the whips and of the bells vividly played by them.
On the Eve of Thelfth Night, herds of young boys used to come to those houses where there were unmarried girls . They used to take the girls by the waste and to raise then and to sing them.
A magic moment was that of Saint Basil. Towards midnight, the village musician used to play a tune dedicated to this event. He used to come by the lit windows and to ask : „Are you asleep ?” It was a moment we were all looking forward to. Then the lamp was raised and the musician used to start his recital, accompanying his wife with a beautiful voice, on the violin.
At the end of his comments, the septuagenarian poet H.B sadly added: „I’m afraid these moments of communion and of transcendent emotion, both from a social and a familiy point of view are losing their value each and every day in favour of a time dedicated to pragmatism, which has managed to deprive us of our spirituality.”
The septuagenarian journalist’s, M.B. memories about Cristams are closely connected to a close realtive’s arrest by the Security forces: „In 1949, on Christmas Eve „aunt Mary”, my father’s sister knocked on our door. She was holding in her arms our cusin Nick, who was two years old. In four month’s time she was going to have another baby. She spoke to my parents: „Georgeta, Petrică I’ ll stay with you. An hour ago they arrested Simon, because he did not give up the worshops”. Simion Voicu, her husband used to have two workshops in Campina with 3 emplyees. Both workshops were called To Voicu’s, one of the was a shop for vulcanization, the other one was a Foto workshop. In the summer of 1948 the main means of production were nationalized. For a while, due to the fapt that his means of production were not quite main ones, uncle Simion, with the support of a rebel employee from the Mayor House, managed to escape his workshops from being confiscated. The then authorities informed him that he must comply with the law. Then they threatened him. A while his influence friend in the Mayor House helped him get away with it. In 1950, on Chistmas Eve, Simion Voicu was arrested. They did not trial him. The site for the channel Danube-Black Sea had barely strated. This is where he was sent for re(education) and requalfication. This is where he worked till 1955, when the works to the Blue High Way stopped. Six moths lated, Simion Voicu died „free”. He was only 52. God had helped him see his second son.
I have not forgotten the Cristmas in 1949 since it was the first time I celebrated Chistmas also with other people apart from my parents.
Sad memories from the Communist Times are also those of the Bucharest inhabitant AA. He tresures back in his mind his father’s fears, who as both Party Member and Army Colnel, that someone may find out that Cristmas was celebrated in his house ( or even in the houses of his relatatives in the countryside). Women’s memories are even more vivid. DC aged 70 remembers the winter times of 1952-1954, when its rich family in Transilvania was deported to Moldavia and when she was senteced to forced labour in a factory. Another lady in Contanta, remebers that in 1949, the herd of singers to which she used to be part, was attacked by a group of comunist atheists who beat them and took all their money.
Unforgettable memories also for the septuagenarian writer I.B. : the carols taught by their eleders late at night, the apples taken out of the hay, kept hidden by their parents and their grandparents, and the writer’ s comments on the rich Cristmas meals even in poor families and also on gypsies’ participation to carols together with Romanian singers.
The young subjects rememeber the Cristmas tree, the ornaments in the fir tree, the carols in winter evenings, the Chistams meal in the family, singing Plugusorul, the fun they used to have in Childre’s village, the charm of the night before the New Year. Some would link the memories of the winter celebrations to the carols concerts, trips to the mounting and winter sports, the first time on skies, either in Cheia in the Mid Carpathians.
As final coments from both groups of subjects: winter celebrations seem to be the most beautiful ones around the year. The young ones say that „snow increses the charm”. A charm taht is in part diminished by the commercial histeria, bad taste and Kitch that have proliferated lately.
A few conclusions are compulsory at the end of this research:
1. 1. In Romania there some valuable, genuine folk areas where ancient religious and secular traditions have been treasured. Taking into account the answers provided by the subjects, the most significant areas are: Maramureşul, Sibiul, Munţii Apuseni, Argeşul, Prahova, Moldova, Bucovina.
2. Rural areas treasure intact these traditions. Unlike these, the urban areas, covered by the commercial fever, by standardization and by taking over without a critical attitude all sorts of clisees, have turned these traditions into cosmopolite ones, governed by kitch. Out of spiritual celebrations theu have turned into bely celebrations, dominated by thoghtsless buying, the secular display, even ostentiously of acumulated wealth.
3. the subjects over 70s treasure in their memories the elements of beauty of these traditions, which also coincide with the Paradise Lost of Childhood. Quite often, the childhood memories are filled with fears or traumas from the communist period, includig episodes of deportation, forced labour, arrests aso. On the other hand, they are a proof of Romanian people’s silent resistence to boshevic attitudes and efforts to wipe out memories and identities.
4. Young people, althou took part in a considearble proprtion even in unfolding the research did not provide elements that could prove how profound such celebrations are. Althogh it is obvious that they part from the tradtion, customs, folklore, the battle may not be lost, yet. In the country side, it is still vivid and it is a spiritual shield for eternity. Therefore, we think that Lucian Blaga, a poet and a philosopher ever more famous aboroad, was entitled to say that: „Eternity was born in the countryside.” Young generation’s attachment to these events is genuine, accent being placed on the united family, not on a divided family.
5. the elderly, although more difficult to be interviewed, have brought to life the link between memories and the present, as a link between generations. Due to the professional involvement of the persons unfolding the investigation (philologists with high education and a gift for research) among the respondents have been involved some writers (novelists, poets), historians, professors, journalists who provided relevant and touching information about the phnonmenon under investigation.
6. Special linguistic elements regarding food customs and carols have been brought to light by the investigation. Thus, old forms of verbs, names of foods and of magic rituals are a proof of the ancient tradition of the Romanian people, as a special civilization, specific but also harmonious with other people on the continent. To disregard Romanian culture and civilization would be the equivalent of a painful loss for the European spiritual heritage.
Dr. Georgeta Adam
Association of Women Journalists from Romania-Ariadna