Like I wrote in a previous article, the winter holidays in Romania are part of a more complex solar calendar. In modern times, the calendar of traditions is a mixture of archaic, pagan and Christian beliefs. They are so intertwined that is difficult to tell which was first. But, if you think about it it is not important.
Now, on the 25th of December we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. But in the traditional calendar this is just one of the celebrations. I will talk mainly about the customs that we have that are not religious and part of Christianity.
Like many other religions of beliefs systems, in this time of the year we celebrate the light. It is festival of celebrations of light. Jewish have Hanukah, the Slavic and Nordic people have Yule, the Africans have Kwanzaa and Iranian have Shab e Cheleh. The bottom line of all is that is about community and about the rise of the Sun.
A festival of fire, earth and water
In Romania, the celebrations start with 20/21st of December and end on the 6th of January. In the past, the calendar was about the Sun, not something on paper.
The first celebration, is one of fire – Ignat – the rekindling of the sun, through ceremonial sacrifice. This is done on the 21st. A pig is slaughtered to be the main dish for winter. In the past this was a very important part of the diet of the family. This is done on the shortest day of the year; a day in which the Sun is at its lowest.
After this, there are 3 days in which the Sun has the same height. It’s a time of preparation for the rebirth of the Sun and, whit it, of the New Year. On the 25th, it’s the first day the Sun rises. It is renewed. But the Sun needs time to grow in strenght.
People believe that during the winter holidays in Romania, the spirits roam the earth. People dressed in ancient totemic animals go from house to house to scare the spirits Everything is a dance, a ceremony with words and blessing, with singing and laughter. They make a lot of noise and travel masked as bears, stags or horses. The blessing, the drums, the dancing, the totemic animals are remnants of old. They stand for the earth and all on it.
Between 25th of December and 6th of January Romanians celebrate family and community. It is very important to travel and meet with people, to go out into the cold. Also, the most important part is to think about the past, but look forward. We tent to party and to eat; the fasting is over. The sun is rising, winter shall be defeated.
The last day of the celebrations is the 6th of January. It’s a celebration of water. Through the blessing of the water the renewal of the year is complete.
At the end of it all it is a celebration of renewal, of leaving behind what was the old year. We look to the new. The new person that we became. We are, after all, the product of all the people and experiences in our life.
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