Special Christmas traditions in Romania

Children Caroling in Maramures. Photo by BasesteanuChristmas is the most important religious celebration and many centuries-old Christmas traditions in Romania are still alive, especially in the northern region of Maramures.

Attending the Christmas mass in traditional clothes in a wooden church

On Christmas day, villagers put on their colorful, hand-made traditional clothes and attend the Christmas mass.
Maramures is famous for its wooden churches and many villages have at least one that is used for this occasion. The image of people wearing traditional clothes inside a wooden church is very powerful and brings you back in time. It also tells a lot about the spirituality and deeper connection these people have with their heritage and nature.


Wooden church from Maramures. Photo by basesteanuAnother of the Christmas traditions in Romania is caroling. It is usually associated with Christmas but its origins are rather connected to the winter solstice and the passing into a new year. In Romania caroling takes place throughout December and into the first days of January.
On Christmas Eve both children and adults sing carols, visiting all the houses in the village. Some carols refer to the birth of Jesus but many of them carry messages about regeneration, abundance, fertility, warding off evil spirits.
A carol with a religious connotation is The Star (Steaua), sung on Christmas Eve. Usually, a group of 4 boys carry a star made of wood, decorated with colorful paper and a light singing about the night when The Three Wise Men following the big star arrived to the place where Jesus was born bringing presents.
The “Play of the Old Men” (Jocul Moșilor) on the other hand is a carol played by men wearing masks and dancing, having pagan roots. The one wearing the mask has the possibility to transcend and take over the Brondosii from Cavnic. Andrei C Pavelspecial powers of the mask and at the same time it allows him to have an unnatural behavior. A similar carol is called Brondosii where men wear masks and bells and go through the village trying to ward of the evil spirits.
There are many other interesting carols such as Viflaim (religious theater), the Goat, the Bear, the Plough (Plugusorul) which are still performed in Maramures.
The carolers usually receive a round pretzel (symbol of the Sun), apples (the fruit of knowledge) and nuts (associated with the World Egg).

Traditional Christmas dinner

The traditional food for Christmas in Maramures is forcemeat rolls in cabbage (sarmale), different kinds of pork sausages, sponge cakes, home-made cakes and for drinks palinca (plum or apple brandy).
Traditional food for Christmas from Maramures, Romania. Photo by BasesteanuYou can notice that pork meat is the main ingredient and there is a reason for that. Local families usually raise a pig throughout the year which they slaughter in the weeks before Christmas and then prepare  meat products from it like sausage, lard, bacon, dry-cured ham. This is a centuries-old tradition, from the times when animals where sacrificed and offered to God. The time for this sacrifice was just before the Winter Solstice, on December 20th (St Igantius Day), a date which is still considered the right time for the slaughtering. Tradition says that one should not feel sorry for the animal and preparing the food and eating it should be joyful.

The white winter feel

Maramures is a mountainous region and it is very common that during Christmas all of it is covered with snow, making it a fairy-tale looking land. Add to Winter in Maramures. Photo by Sorin Onisorthat all the wonderful traditions, the delicious food and very welcoming locals and you get a wonderful idea for a Christmas holiday in Romania.

More pictures of Christmas traditions in Romania and Maramures can be found in this Facebook album. Enjoy!

One Comments

  1. Great post! We are running a Christmas photo challenge at the moment by which we hope to gather photos and descriptions of Christmas traditions from all around the world. If you’d like to participate, write a couple of sentences about Christmas in Romania, send us a photo to represent it and we will publish the best entries on our blog with a link to your site. Sounds good? 🙂 Here you will find more details: http://hitchhikershandbook.com/2013/12/21/christmas-traditions-around-the-world-photo-challenge/
    Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! 🙂

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