Dragos Pitica

carols, food and bears: romanian christmas traditions are simply the best

As every country has its own cultural traditions when it comes to Christmas, Romania is a land that has many more traditions than you would normally expect from a less-known Eastern European country. As these are some old and authentic customs and traditions that I grew up with, I look forward to sharing something that you’ve probably never heard of.


Since beginning of December, a suite of carols can be heard all over the country during this time of year, from the paths of the villages to the venues in the capital.

Traditionally, on Christmas eve, children go carolling from door to door, accompanied by wishes for health, prosperity, and fulfilment. Carollers usually expect small food and beverage goodies such as fruits, nuts, cookies or wine (only for adults) in exchange to their performances. Nowadays kids usually go for money, 5-10 RON (1-2 GBP) should be enough.

Anyways, Romanian Christmas carols – whether religious songs, pure folklore or theatrical performances – are all wonderful.

all the food

Probably the main part of any holiday in Romania is food and Christmas period is always a true feast. It all begins with pig slaughtering. I know how cruel sounds, but it has been part of the local customs for as long as history can record. Besides, most parts of the poor animal are turned into smoked ham, bacon, sausages, liver sausage, pig’s trotter and many other delicious Romanian dishes with names hard to translate.

Highlights of the menu for a Christmas dinner are:

  • sarmale – delicious meat-and-rice rolls wrapped in cabbage, served with polenta
  • cozonaci – a cake with nuts, cocoa and Turkish delights, something like the Italian panettone, but more consistent
  • the delicious boeuf salad
  • home-made wine and plum brandy
  • various fancy cakes

Also, irrespective of the current financial situation, Christmas dinner will always be a rich and multi-course meal.

back to basics

When it comes to the countryside, carolling traditions come in different forms, some of them having even Geto-Dacians origins. For example, one of them involves people dressed as bears. In the past, a real bear was also included in the dance. The tradition, called Ursul (the Bear Dance), is mostly kept in Bucovina and Moldova on New Year’s Eve. The tradition aims to purify and fertilise the soil for the next year.

Another tradition is called Plugusorul (rough translation – the Small Plow), which is mostly spoken and which is meant to wish listeners a good and fruitful year.

Along these customs you could also see Mascatii (the Masked People), Capra (the Goat) and Steaua (the Star boys’ singing procession). However, each region features its own parades, customs, traditions and festivals.

Overall, these are just a few of some of the most popular Christmas traditions in Romania, traditions that offer a unique identity and a special charm during the holidays.

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