Christmas is one of the two very important religious holidays in Romania, the other one being Easter. Both holidays are about family reunion, love, and respect. But Christmas is by far the most attractive one, especially to children. Because let’s be serious. Every kid is excited about meeting Santa and receiving his gifts, no matter how naughty he was throughout the year.
Just like in the majority of the Christmas world, Christmas in Romania is celebrated on December 24-25. Yet the traditions go far beyond exchanging gifts and decorating the Christmas tree.
Starting with the 14th of November, the Nativity Fast of 40 days begins. During this period, people will prepare themselves to properly celebrate the birth of Jesus, by purifying their body, soul, and home. Besides fasting, confession and the Holy Communion are two highly important steps in preparation for Christmas. Unlike the Catholic fast, the Orthodox one also forbids the consumption of dairy and egg products, but the consumption of fish is permitted on certain days. Despite the fact that the fast lasts for more than a month, many people respect this religious practice, at least for a couple of days.
Although it is not a Christmas tradition, Romanians also celebrate St. Nicholas. On the evening of December 5th, children prepare their boots by cleaning them and leave them by the door in hope that St. Nicholas will leave them some presents. St. Nicholas is usually called Moș Nicolae (Old Man Nicholas), and the legend says that if it snows on his day (December 6th), he has shaken his beard, and winter will officially begin.
One of the most amazing and captivating facts is that the ancient pagan customs and Christian traditions managed to harmonize and complement each other in order to form some truly interesting rituals.
For example, Ignat is one of the Christmas traditions in Romania and it takes place on December 20. On this day, people living in the countryside sacrifice one or more pigs, trance the meat, and prepare it for all sorts of traditional delicacies. It was initially a pagan custom, but over the years it has merged into Romania’s Christmas traditions.
But by far the most popular Romanian Christmas tradition is Christmas Caroling. Nobody knows for sure the exact place and moment when carols appeared, but many historians traced them back to the 4th century Rome.
Romanian traditional clothes
Romanian Christmas carols are some of the oldest in the world, with tunes and themes varying according to their region of origin. While some of the carols focus on telling the story of the Birth of Jesus Christ, many of them are blessings to those that open their doors to the carol singers, to their families, future crops, and others are wishes of good luck, health, and love in the new year. Some of the carols are even addressed to the hunters, fishers, and farmers, bidding them good luck in their work. In Romanian culture, Christmas is not only for humans but for the entire creation of God, thus many carols focus on blessing Mother Nature.
Despite the variety, the most beloved carols are, without a doubt, the ones glorifying the birth of Jesus. The biblical scene is described in detail, and the emotional lyrics focus on the hard conditions Virgin Mary had to endure to give birth to baby Jesus. The long and tiring journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the cold winter night, the stable, the messenger star, and the arrival of the Magi are all wonderfully sang in rhymed lyrics. The carols plead for harmony and peace among people, and children are usually the ones who sing them because they are considered the purest and closest to God.
In some regions of Romania, the children go caroling early in the day, and teenagers and young adults go after sunset. It is truly breathtaking to see groups of little kids, happy and cheerful, eager to demonstrate their talent, despite the freezing temperatures and heavy snows. In the countryside, they are usually dressed in traditional Romanian clothes, and they are incredibly cute, especially when they try to take a very proud and solemn face. They take Christmas caroling very seriously, and they usually start practicing the carols weeks in advance, just to be sure that their performance will be perfect.
Food preparation is also a very important ceremony. Everything begins at 5 am, with the preparation of the traditional cozonac – a sweet sponge cake with nuts and cocoa filling.
Afterward, the preparation of the traditional pork specialties begins. Smoked ham and sausages, jellied pork, greaves or tripe soup are just some of the winter delicacies that make Romanian Christmas a feast for all your senses. And the best way to enjoy all of these is with a glass of palinka.
Romanian appetizers made from pork. Photo source: Eatermagazine
And of course, you can’t talk about Romanian food without mentioning the beloved cabbage rolls (sarmale). Paired with sour cream, a hot polenta, and a couple of hot peppers. Trust us, this is the worst time to be a vegetarian!
Romania is filled with beautiful Christmas markets, but few of them are surrounded by historical buildings and beautiful architecture and filled with Romanian Christmas ornaments.
The Sibu Christmas Market is probably the most beautiful one in Romania. Being named the European Capital of Culture in 2007, Sibiu is a city founded by German settlers in the 12th century. The Sibiu Christmas Market will reach its 10th anniversary this year, and as always, it is located in the beautiful Grand Square, in the heart of the city. The atmosphere is most spectacular at night when the bright Christmas lights twinkle all over Sibiu’s Old Town. This place is filled with pretty much everything, from roasted almonds and mulled wine to traditional Romanian ornaments and handmade products such as leather hats and gloves, jewelry, furs, and more.
Christmas lights in Sibiu`s Old Town
Another Christmas market worth mentioning is the Bucharest Christmas Market. Lasting for the whole month of December, the Fair will be filled with more than 100 wooden huts where you can build street food, drink mulled wine, or purchase gifts and handmade decorations. In the Market, you will also find Santa’s House, which is the main attraction for children willing to meet Santa.
Christmas lights in Bucharest
In Bucharest, you will also have the chance to be kinder with a humanitarian campaign, where visitors can donate books and toys for children that live in poverty.
On the first day of Christmas, early in the morning, people leave for the church and children open their gifts from Santa. The three following days are reserved for relaxation, visiting family members, and enjoying the delicious food. Top that with some snow, a beautiful Carpathian landscape, and a glass of red wine, and enjoy the magic of an authentic Romanian Christmas.
But before you go, here’s how to say Merry Christmas in Romanian: Crăciun Fericit!