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Christmas 2017 and 2018

Christmas is called “Craciunul” in Romania and has continuously been celebrated in Romania from the time Christianity was first introduced many centuries ago. The only exception was between 1948 and 1989, when Christmas was banned during the days Communism held sway in Romania.

201725 DecMonChristmas Day
26 DecTue2nd Day of Christmas
201825 DecTueChristmas Day
26 DecWed2nd Day of Christmas
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As in other Eastern Orthodox countries, the Christmas season officially starts with Advent, seven weeks before Christmas Day, on November 14th. However, it picks up pace on November 30th, which is Saint Andrew’s Day, and finishes up on January 7th, which is Saint John the Baptist Day.

During most of this long period, meat and all animal-based foods are to be avoided. Oil is not to be used on Wednesdays and Fridays, and Christmas Eve is a fasting day. However, there are over half a dozen “exception days” worked into the schedule as well.

On November 30th, many hang out garlic and crucifixes on doors and near windows “to scare away evil spirits and nullify evil spells.” Vampires are thought to prowl about on this night, and it is often called be the eery name “the Night of the Wolf.”

The tone changes dramatically on December 1st, when Christmas lights are put up along the streets. Saint Nicolas appears to give out presents to kids on December 6th. Children put out boots, hoping for candy, sweets, or books, but if they were bad that year, they might just get sticks in their boots.

When December 20th arrives, preparations for Christmas wing into full gear. Pigs destined for Christmas dinner are slaughtered and Christmas tree shopping begins. By the 23rd of December, “Christmas Eve Eve,” Christmas trees simply must be up and decorated, and children often go out carolling in their local neighbourhoods, hoping to receive cookies in return.

Romanians make music an especially important part of the way they keep Christmas, and they have even developed a special genre for the occasion called “colinda.” Colinda uses hymn-like lyrics that describe the birth of Christ and related matters but combines them with traditional, Romanian-style music for a truly unique result. You may well hear some carolers singing colinda a couple days before Christmas Day.

The Christmas feast in Romania will include the Christmas pig in one form or another, often as pork chops, cabbage stuffed with pork, or sour pork and vegetable soup. There are many other traditional, and very delicious, dishes as well, including: smoked bacon, trout, cheeses, sausages, gingerbread, and if you prefer, hot plum brandy.

Another noteworthy dish is the chicken-vegetable salad that is “pasted together” with mayo and covered with boiled eggs and olives. It is a kind of “culinary sculpture” that soon disappears from the dinner table.

Things to do in Romania during the Christmas season include:

  • Go to the Bucharest Christmas Market, right downtown in University Square. You will see a dazzling display of over 2.5 million lights throughout November and December, and there will be dozens of stalls selling crafts, Christmas ornaments, ornately designed clothing, colourful masks, musical instruments, and much more. While in the square, you will also be treated to carolling, folk stories, music concerts, the sight of an oversized, decorated Christmas tree, and Santa’s more southerly house, his main residence being in Finland.
  • Attend a very different Christmas market in Sibiu, in the back country of Transylvania. You will find that there is an odd mix of Count Dracula and Christmas themes here that is not likely to be encountered anywhere else on earth. The market has been running since 2007, and it is very popular with tourist who dare to venture onto Dracula’s “home turf.”
  • Buy and try some “cozonac,” a rich, sweet fruit pastry traditionally eaten for Christmas. It comes in hundreds of recipes and numerous flavours, often being filled with such things as chocolate, walnuts, or raisins. Also look for “gogosi,” a kind of Romanian doughnut, and various forms of cheesecake.

Romania celebrates Christmas in ways often very different from the West, but this only makes it more interesting for tourists who wish to learn about how other cultures observe the Yuletide.