As an exchange student in Romania, you will quickly realise that Romanians absolutely love Christmas. It is a time not only for reconnecting with family and friends but also for practising traditions which were transmitted from generation to generation. We definitely cannot do justice to the diversity of traditions that Romanians have during this period of the year. However, we are offering you an introduction to a small part of the traditions that both locals and visitors love, so you know what to be looking for!
Ask anyone from Romania about Christmas and one of the first things they will say will probably be about Christmas carols, or ”colinde”. Starting on Christmas Eve and lasting until the 26th of December, groups of children (or even adults) can be seen going from door to door, singing traditional carols. It is said that if you receive at least one group of carolling people in your house, you will have a lucky year, so you have to at least invite them to drink and eat something at the big table.
The colinde are an important part of the country's cultural heritage and often tell stories from the Bible or express the hopes and wishes of the singers for the coming year. In return for their beautiful singing, the children may receive gifts or treats. The practice of carolling may not be as common as it once was, but it remains a beloved tradition in Romania and is a must-see for any exchange student.
If you're curious about Christmas carols in Romania, it can be difficult to find professionally-sung versions on the internet. However, you can still find many traditional carols on YouTube. Some examples of searching include "Măruț, mărgăritar", "Creștinilor noi astăzi" and "Iată vin colindători."
Feel the Christmas Spirit in Maramureș
Maramures, located in the northern part of the country, offers some of the best-preserved traditions in Romania. One such tradition is the "Viflaim", which features people dressed as devils, angels, and religious figures such as Mother Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherd acting out the scene of the birth of Jesus. This centuries-old tradition requires a lot of preparation as it involves dozens of participants.
If you happen to be in Maramures during the Christmas season, be prepared to encounter the "Jocul Mosilor", or the Elders' game. In this tradition, children and young people roam the streets of the village or city wearing horned fur masks and wielding whips. They knock on people's doors to scare them and wish them a good year, or provoke people on the street to run away from them out of fear of whipping. While it may be intimidating, it's all in good fun and provides a unique opportunity to experience Romanian culture firsthand. So if you're looking for a truly authentic experience, make sure to visit Maramures and witness these fascinating traditions for yourself.
Bucovina, a Rich Cultural Experience
As you explore the streets of a village or city from Bucovina, you may come across locals dressed in elaborate masks and costumes. Imagine seeing people dressed up as goats and bears, dancing and making noise, as a symbol of fertility and the cycle of life and death. As they dance and mimic the elements of their animal counterparts, you'll feel like you've been transported to a world where the lines between human and animal get ever more blurry.
These mask games are a must-see for any exchange student in Romania, offering a unique glimpse into the country's rich cultural traditions. In addition to the goats and bears, you may also encounter other kinds of characters such as old men and women or soldiers. The masks are often made of wood and adorned with colourful ribbons, beads, and other
accessories. The spectacle of these masked individuals dancing and miming the elements of their character's stories is truly a sight to behold.
People dressed up as bears
But the traditions of Bucovina don't end there. During the Christmas season, people make and enjoy special cookies called "turte" that are kept until spring, when they are placed between the horns of the cows when they go to plough the fields. It is said that these cookies should be round like the Sun and the Moon.
In conclusion, the traditions and customs of Maramures and Bucovina are a unique and fascinating part of Romanian culture. From the traditional mask games to the special Christmas cookies and the carolling, these customs provide a glimpse into the rich history and culture of these regions. As an exchange student in Romania, experiencing these traditions firsthand is a must-do, offering a truly unique and immersive experience.