Christmas has 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 officially banned during the days Communism held sway in Romania.
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As in other Eastern Orthodox countries, the Christmas season officially starts with Advent, seven weeks before Christmas Day, on 14 November. However, it picks up pace on 30 November which is Saint Andrew’s Day, and finishes up on 7 January which is Saint John the Baptist Day.
During most of this long period, meat and all animal-based foods are avoided by the devout. Traditionally, 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.
The tone changes dramatically on 1 December when Christmas lights are put up along the streets. Saint Nicolas appears to give out presents to kids on 6 December. 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 20 December arrives, preparations for Christmas swing 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.