Maybe no other thing can better define the spirit of a people than its ancient traditions and customs. The traveler coming from the West will be surprised to discover that Romania is a place with a lot of legends, myths, and traditions preserved for ages. Here, different moments of the year, the religious days – Easter, Christmas – as well as the moments relevant for the agricultural calendar – harvesting, reaping – are celebrated with great joy by festivals and feasts.
Tourists are fascinated by the old Romanian folk dances such as “caluşarii” or “hora”- combining elegant moves and satirical verses with giddy rhythms of the dance. Caluşarii is a ritual initiation dance, while hora may be danced by all the villagers, especially on Sunday. Travelers not used to such events will assist, amused and frightened, curious and reserved, but the moment they understands the message of the dance and realize that they are in fact helping to reconstruct some ancient times, they will remember their emotion from that unique moment.
Învârtita, Haţegana, Bătuta and Banu Mărăcine are other dances, rendering the specificity of every Romanian area in the very way they combine the specific moves and steps.
On Christmas and New Year’s Eve, children and young men go from house to house singings carols. In some regions, they dance with folk masks on their faces and recite speeches. For their effort, they receive fruit and home-made cakes. The best known carols are Steaua, Pluguşorul, Sorcova and Capra.
Boboteaza (January 6) and Sfântul Ioan (January 7) mark the first week of January. It is the moment when Romanians go to the church to take holy water, used for curing and purification. In the riverside villages and towns, young men compete in bringing back to the shore the cross that the priest throws into the frozen waters. Those who succeed have success in store. It is the moment when waters are believed to be holy, which is why women do no laundry in the following 8 days.
Martişorul (March 1) is the celebration that brings hope, optimism and faith in a better future, year by year. The symbol is a white and red lace with an amulet (a coin, a shell), that parents used to tie around their children’s joints and young men offered to girls as a sign of good luck and health. In Dobrogea, the March amulet is worn until the coming of the storks, and then it is thrown into the doors, windows and on animals’ horns to cast away bad spirits and to invoke life.
Easter is the holiday that Romanians will always associate with knocking red eggs. At Easter time, eggs are knocked according to a specific ritual: the elder person knocks the head of its egg against the head of the egg held by a table companion, while saying: “Christ has risen from the dead!” and he is answered “Indeed he has!” On the first day of Easter, it is customary to wear new clothes, as a sign of the refreshment of the body and soul. The meal is an opportunity to gather the family and is made up besides red eggs, of traditional dishes such as sheep pot cheese, radish and green salad, roast lamb and sweet cream cheesecake (pască).
Romanian folk architecture is preserved today especially in the countryside, but also in the numerous museums dedicated to ethnography. The architecture of the houses, the pottery and the woodcarving, the glass painting of icons and the folk masks, the musical instruments – bagpipes, flutes, fiddles – and the embroidery are all Romanian wonders born from a skill handed down from father to son for centuries. In many households, the clothes, carpets and embroideries are still handmade. Carpets woven on looms are highly appreciated for their quality, colors and models.
Music has always represented one of the most important elements of Romanian life. Doina, the epic song, as well as the satirical extempore verses from the feasts (hora, wedding, christening dinner party) are part of a particular rich repertoire.
Folk costumes blend complicated embroideries and vivid colors in models that usually represent conventional flowers and animals (Walachia and Oltenia) or geometrical shapes (Transylvania). Each region has its representative costumes. But everywhere, women wear colored head-kerchiefs, and men, caps of lamb’s wool. In Maramureş, these caps are very tall, without brims and decorated in various models. They are known as ‘clop’.
TRADITIONAL CUSTOMS IN SUCEAVA
Winter holidays customs
Saint Andrew (the 30th of November) – day preceded by the night of the spirits, when the magic is particular (spells, predictions etc.);
Saint Nicholas (the 6th of December) – Saint Nicholas is a wise and calm character, who helps the widows and the orphans, facilitates the marriage of poor girls and brings toys to the children;
The Ignatius of the Pig (the 20th of December) – the day when pigs are sacrificed;
The Christmas Eve (the 24th of December) – preparation of the Christmas Eve meal and the tradition of caroling (tradition followed by the children, groups of youths and then by the elderly householders who sustain it through the Epiphany);
The Christmas Day (the 25th of December) – the Star caroling and the caroling of the “Irozi” a popular-religious form of theatre practiced by small groups of people, dressed in biblical characters (The Emperor Irod, the Magus Balthazar, Gaspar and Melchior, the Angel, the Shepherd);
The New Year – masks plays (the goats, the bears, the horses, the hirelings, the emperors, the wedding, the “bunghieri”- rebellious gendarmes), the plow saying;
1st of January – “the Sowing” is done by the children who throw wheat seeds in houses and address the people good sayings of health and prosperity;
The Epiphany – the procession of blessing the waters, the making of the ice Cross, sprinkling the households, the orchards, the animals and the people with holy water (“aghiasma”), sayings (“Chiralesa” translated “God Bless”), sounds or the making of ritual fires (Ardeasca).
Other celebrations along the year
Being linked to the traditional occupations and closely related to the religious calendar, the majority of the holidays have a fixed date and the very important ones are during spring:
40 Martyrs (the 9th of March, The Starting of plow),
Saint George (the 23rd of April, The Pastoral New Year),
Easter (the egg painting, the preparing of the traditional meal, taking part at the Easter religious ceremony, the consecration of the Easter basket, the festive meal, but also the sound of the “toaca” at the churches, the beli ringing, the dyed egg bumping, the traditional second Easter day wetting, the making of the swings).
The ceremonies along one’s life
The Birth – there are a series of rituals destined to protect the newborn from the evil’s eye and from diseases, baptize and godfather customs, but also rituals during the holy bath; six months after the baptize, the baby is redeemed by the parents from the godfathers, by giving them bread and other presents; half a year from the birth, the baby has his forelock cut (this tradition is followed nowadays when the baby is one year old), moment when the family ceremony is organized.
The Wedding – important event, with multiple implications, it is a moment of happiness and party for the entire community; it comprises the following main moments: the proposal (small ceremony, with an exchange of gifts between the soon-to-be bride and groom and discussions about the dowry between the parents of the youngsters) and the actual wedding (the bride’s adorning and the groom’s “shaving” , the groom’s going to the bride with an escort, “the unlocking” of the gate and the forgiveness asked by the bride and the groom from their parents, going to the church, the religious ceremony, the wedding meal and the dancing, the “dezhobotat” (the taking-off of the bride’s veil); a day after the wedding the “uncrop”, a ceremony where all the people who attended the wedding participate.
The Funeral – a ceremony which takes place along 3-4 days, where a series of customs and traditions are practiced after the death of a person: the covering or the turning towards the wall of all the mirrors inside the house, the bathing of the deceased (the ritual of the purification bath), the wake, the crying, the preparing of the doles and the adorning of the burial tree, the funeral procession, the actual burial; 40 days, six months from the burial and annually, until seven years from the burial, a series of commemorations and feasts take place to honor the memory of the lost one.