Celebrated on December 25, Romanian Christmas is closely connected with pagan festivities, some elements of which continue to be a part of the holiday celebration in Romania today. Pagan themes of life and death are intertwined with Christian Christmas traditions.
Romanian Christmas Pig
Pork is an important part of the Romanian Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meal. On December 20, St. Ignat's Day, a large pig, fattened for this very purpose, is slaughtered to provide the staple ingredient to the Christmastime feast. While rural villagers still practice the pig slaughter, keeping and slaughtering domestic animals isn't practical for city dwellers, but the tradition of eating pork for Christmas in Romania prevails. Other dishes will accompany the main pork dish or be made from pork, and Romanian plum brandy may be drunk.
Another important dish at the Romanian holiday table is the cozonac, a fluffy cake that incorporates a variety of ingredients depending on the recipe and the preferences of the baker. The cake can contain nuts, seeds, cocoa, dried fruit, or other additions.
Romanian Christmas Carols
Christmas carols and the practice of caroling both feature heavily in Romanian Christmas traditions. The act of going through the village, or from house to house, singing carols dates to pre-Christian times. Today, Romanian carolers are most often children who may carry a staff topped with a representation of the Christmas star. For the best effect, carolers traveling in groups carry noisemakers such as bells and whips to scare away evil spirits.
As during Carnival in Eastern Europe, the most serious carolers may dress up as shaggy beasts that faintly represent bears or goats. Carolers may expect a small gift of money or food in return for their services, a little like when trick-or-treaters visit neighborhood houses during Halloween in return for candy.
Caroling was such an important tradition in Romania that different types of caroling exist, including caroling accompanied by dancing and performance. Caroling is also not limited to Christmas and may be done during other times of the year, such as New Year's Eve. Caroling masks are still made by artisans in Romania, but now they are more often purchased as souvenirs and conversation pieces. Some Romanian Christmas carols have a religious theme, while others may reference Romanian folklore.
Santa Claus in Romania
Santa Claus, or St. Nick, is called Mos Nicolae in Romania, and he appears on December 6 to distribute small treats and gifts to good children, who leave their shoes by the doorway to be filled overnight. However, Santa Claus can also visit on Christmas Eve after the decoration of the family's Christmas tree.
Visit Christmas markets in Romania, such as the Sibiu Christmas market, to see traditions unfold before your eyes. Other historical cities, such as Bremen, have established their own Christmas markets to accompany a calendar of holiday events and attract visitors curious about Romania's traditions.