Romanian traditional customs
Within South Eastern Europe however, Romania preserved a significant
number of traditional customs and celebrations manifest within the
strong community of the village. Ceremonies dedicated to the
significant moments of one's life (birth, wedding, death), to natural
cycles (such as solstice, equinox, harvest, springtime) or to the big
religious celebrations, follow the same archaic mythical rituals they
did a thousand years ago. Even though preformed at the end of the
20^th century in villages marked by modernization, such traditional
rites haven't diminish their prestige. They still provide viable
answers to how to live in harmony with the environment and community,
that the present social and economical system cannot furnish. As a
result of the historical time we live, most forms of traditional
community life slowly vanished from the post-industrial civilizations
of this century.
During winter solstice, when the sun is weak and frost and dryness
take over, Romanian peasants conceived ceremonies to help the Sun and
Nature to overcome this "temporary crisis." For 12 days between
Christmas and St. John on January 7th, all Romanian villages have
specific celebrations, starting with children's caroling on Christmas
eve: Mos Ajun or Buna Dimineata (Good Morning).
Well spread throughout Romanian countryside is the caroling of the
Ceata de feciori (the Young Fellows Crew). In Transylvania, Banat,
Maramures, and also in Wallachia and Dobruja, young bachelors in
groups of 6 to 25, go caroling around the village for 3 days.
Irrespective of the time of the day, they are expected by the
villagers with lots of food and their porch lights on at night time.
These carols are considered to be some of the most valuable works of
poetry in Eastern Europe.
New Year's is another period of festivities. Augural time, the night
of December 31^st puts forth dances with masks, divination,
foretelling, and magic. The caroling repertoire is vast. Besides
ritual songs such as Plugusor (little plough), Buhai (traditional
drum), Capra (goat dance), Ursul (bear dance), there are carols for
each category of individuals within the community (old, very young,
young, newly weds, ready to marry, young parents, families without
children, etc), for each profession (shepherd, farmer, bucket makers,
soldiers), or for specific regions (such as Jiu dwellers). In certain
villages, we can find gatherings as large as 100 people of smaller
young fellows' crews singing together on the streets (Bukovinan
Malanca). In Moldova, the choreography, costumes and ritual dances
during the caroling festivities represent a genuine work of art.
Running parallel to the public communal festivities, specific rites go
on in private houses. Young women get together to guess about their
future husband, and old people make prognoses according to the less
conventional "onion calendar."
Children themselves perform specific carols: Sorcova, when they touch
older family members with a stick adorned with artificial flowers and
wish them good health and prosperity in the coming year, or Semanat
(Tilling), when they symbolically toss wheat grains in people's yards
to get good harvests during that year.
April and May festivities are connected to agricultural or sheep
raising practices: Tilling Day (Maramures) or Choosing of the King
(Transylvania), celebrating the first farmer to finish tilling and
sowing. Similarly, Sheep Day or Milk Measuring celebrations (Banat and
Transylvania) mark the moving of the sheep flocks up on the mountain
to spend the summer.
Around the summer solstice and coinciding with the Christian
celebrations of Rusalii (Pentecost) and St. John Day's, Romanians
traditionally practiced two ritual ceremonies dedicated to good crops
and land fertility: Calusul, a dance performed by a special group of
men (esp. in the Olt region and Wallachia) and Sanzienile and
Dragaica, the Romanian versions of Midsummer's Day, with ritual
dancing and singing by a group of young girls.
Harvesting is another time of celebration, thanksgiving, and
preparation for the next crop. A symbolic wheat crown or braid is put
in a special place next to the icons, their grains being later mixed
with next crop's seeds. In the Saxon land, such a harvesting festivity
is knows as Chirvai (kir-vy): a time when the community drinks from
the sweet grape juice, parties, feasts and dances.
Other types of festivities are Hramuri and Nedei. An old tradition
from Moldova and Northern Transylvania, hramuri represents the day to
celebrate the patron saint of a particular church. Closer or more
remote villages come in a procession to that church, while the hosting
village organizes a big communal feasts. September 8th, the hram of St
Mary, is the day when the caldarari Roma get together to the church of
Costesti (Valcea county) and when they also delimit their clans and
territories and display their possessions.
Nedei are a sort of regional fares from South Western Transylvania,
Banat or Gorj, mostly determined by the church procession (hram).
People get together to exchange their produce and to celebrate for a
day. Originally these gatherings took place outside villages, at major
crossroads on higher plateaus. There are two places where such Nedei
still take place independent of a church procession: on Gaina Mountain
on July 20 and on Penteleu Mountain on June 24.
Besides the daily bread, there is the ritual bread whose presence is
compulsory at celebrations and feasts (at Christmas, New Year's Eve,
Easter, at celebrations of the dead - in Romanian "mosii" - in winter,
spring, summer or autumn or of the life cycle - birth, marriage,
death). During these special moments it takes the shape of a knot,
communion bread, pretzels, flat cake, sweet cream cheese cake
("colac", "prescura", "covrig", "turta","pasca"). The differences in
shape and ornaments vary according to the ritual function, with the
anniversary to be celebrated and in which the "colac" is offered as a
gift. The most frequent symbols are the cross, the solar circle, the
bird, man (photography with various types of pretzels, ornaments,
moments, occasions: wedding, burial, the carol singing from house to
house, the harvest wreath). There is also another more recent kind of
ritual bread prevailing all over the country: the pound cake
("cozonac"). Its dough is obtained by mixing wheat flour, yeast, milk
and butter. In the resulted dough we add pounded nuts, raisins, and,
sometimes nowadays, cocoa and Turkish delight .The mixture is
portioned, poured into metallic tins and baked in the oven. A strict
ritual function could be identified in focusing on another wheat-dish,
in Romanian called "coliva" (crushed wheat-grains, boiled in water,
sweetened with sugar or honey and mingled with nuts) offered at
funerals and at funeral repasts (projection with the image of
People's existence was marked by the big annual religious celebrations
and fasting, by starting or finishing agricultural activities,
winemaking, or fruit harvesting, or by the seasonal move of the sheep
downward in the valleys or up on the mountains. Important were also
the times when medicinal or mystical plants were in flower or needed
to be picked up. Each of these moments was given a ritual character
and a memorable meaning, as people behaved differently, dressed
festive and used metaphoric language.
In Romania, 1 of March is the day when men offer women a kind of
amulet and two knitted silk tassels: a white one and a red one. March
1^st marks nature's comes back to life and the beginning of the Lent
(Easter Fasting). Some Transylvanian villages celebrate rites of fire
purification and keeping away the bad winter spirits known as the
Bonfires or Village Shouting.
There are many stories trying to explain the meaning of this ancient
custom. The most popular is the one of the young man who fought with
the bad dragon in order to release the sun imprisoned in an old
castle, impeding the arrival of spring. The young man defeated the
dragon, the spring came, but the hero was severely injured. His blood
trickled on the white snow. People showed their consideration for the
sacrifice of the young man by making amulets: a silver coin with the
two tassels, the coin representing the sun, the source of life on the
Another theory says that red (as the sun and the fire) is the symbol
of the vitality of women and white (as the pure cold snow or as the
clouds) the wisdom of men, the woman and the man ...
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