As an effect of the globalization, we sometimes get the feeling that the world is shrinking down, somehow diluting its cultural diversity. However, if we consider traditions as being alive and responsive to societal changes, we’re actually facing a new understanding of regional or local identity and continuous customs. These living practices bring together communities that are also open to share their sense of continuity with visitors.
With the days leading up to Christmas, shops in Bucharest are already hanging up strings of colorful and theatrical decorations. While the light extravaganza is being prepared all over large Romanian cities, it’s rather the remote rural landscape the one that attracts travelers in search of holiday customs that reflect our genuine background.
The Romanian countryside has a truly fairytale quality throughout winter days when tourists can enjoy a wooden-sleigh ride across this perfect setting. And with countless guesthouses where local farmers are welcoming visitors with mouth-watering dishes, a travel to the Romanian villages offers a great opportunity of experiencing a sense of authenticity. In Romania, winter holidays are light up by Saint Nicholas day, an ancient tradition of gifting children with sweets that are hidden into their carefully polished shoes. There’s nothing more rewarding for adults than listening to these children singing carols from door to door during those glittering snow-covered nights.
It is time here to mention Romanian peasant traditional music which is anchored in archaic symbols and lyrical elements that are quintessential to holidays. It is said that the vibrant and sometimes mournful folk music of the Romanian peasants, especially doina, is a language meant to express what would otherwise have remained forever silent. Music and dance have always brought rural communities together through hardships and times of glory. Each year before Christmas, groups of young men gather in villages wearing costumes and singing ritual songs from house to house, particularly to unmarried girls. This ritual is enlisted within UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
Folk dances like hora or căluș ritual comprise a variety of dynamic movements, being truly a symbol of unity. Starting with 2008, the traditional dance căluș was acknowledged as part of the intangible world heritage. Most likely this ritual dates back to ancient purification and fertility rites using the symbol of the horse, which was worshiped as an embodiment of the sun.
During the run-up to Christmas, farmers slaughter a pig and start preparing pork dishes that will be present everywhere during the holyday. The feast ceremony on the Christmas Eve is designed around sarmale, a dish formed of minced meat that is wrapped in salted cabbage leaves, and chunks of fried pork fat called jumări. We can’t imagine this holyday without the cinnamon-scented sweet bread cozonac with walnuts. Just fancy this festive getaway in a charming farm cottage, next to a cozy open fireplace. Winter is also the perfect season for indoor traditional wall-carpet crafting and knitting warm clothing, which are a perfect souvenirs that visitors can leave with. During those long freezing nights, old weavers still gather around the fireplace of terracotta-roofed housed to produce impressive works of art. Increasingly more attention is being drawn to revive this expression of creativity by organizing expositions, workshops and festivals. Remembering just how fast the virtual world is currently expanding, centuries-old techniques are truly engaging for an urban dweller who would like to experience making things by hand, chiseling wood or imagining intricate visual patterns out of knitted wool or even transforming clay into marvelous pottery.
Many villages in Romania, regardless the historical region, hide some secret craftsmen somewhere in a outlying scenery, between oak and beech forests, ready to be approached by travelers that are willing to become their apprentices even for a short period and to create unique personal objects.
With the approaching winter holydays, choose to take a countryside break at this time of the year. An unspoiled feelingof community that is based on the assemblage of customs and traditions will be filling you with cheer. You’ll find numerous villages where you can pick handmade gifts that are a true example of the Romanian folk ingenuity and which could be much lovelier to offer your family and friends.