Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My Favorite Romanian Christmas Traditions

This pos has been in my head for about a month now. Ever since I came back from Romania after visiting my grandparents.

As a Romanian child with a pastry chef grandma, my Christmases were borderline fairytales. 
You probably don't know this unless you are Romanian, partly or whole, live with a Romanian, are married to a Romanian or have friends who are Romanians, but Christmas for us is a serious affair. In this I've always felt a kindred connection to the US where Christmas reaches the gargantuan dimension of Romanian celebrations.
Having been baptised an orthodox (albeit now being more of an open religion person), when I was a child there was plead of half mystical, half religious Christmas traditions by which one was to  abide.
I was the only grandchild in my grandparents lives for quite some time and hence all their loving grandparental attention concentrated on me.

Christmas was magical. For a few very specific reasons:
- on the night between the 5th and 6th of December, Saint Nicholas would come and fill your boots with gifts (if you've been good) or hazel tree rods (if you've been bad). Saint Nicholas is the American Saint Nick as in Santa Claus.  Will come back to that in a different post
Saint Nicholas, also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra. He is believed to be a miracle maker and is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker.
I loved this tradition and have only heard of it from some Greek friends and obviously in Russia. Needless to say, I always woke up to find my boots loaded with goodies and I even started leaving boots around all my families different houses so that the loot would be even greater.
I still celebrate it and surprised my very Italian Mr. Mystery with it for the first time last year and he didn't know what to make of it. :)

- shopping for Christmas gifts. My family was really big on giving gifts. It still is. So secretly shopping for Christmas so that we surprised each other was the biggest thing ever in December. 
When I was a kid, I obviously didn't know all of this was going on (I even had an argument with a classmate in 4th grade because she said Santa Claus didn't exist - I almost jumped her O.O) but when I was a little older I fell for this crazy traditions big time. I don't know if it's a specifically Romanian tradition. But I have to say I know of no other people as gift giving as Romanians - like if you go to somebody's house to just visit them, you better be packing or else your host will feel offended and you better not say no to whatever gift they want to give you (be it jam, alcohol or hand knitted slippers - and yes, the last has happened to me).

- the food. My grandma would start preparing for Christmas a month before by making homemade sausages which she would then hang in the pantry (and hence everything smelled like sausage), buy turkish delight for the cozonac (I will let you know what that is in a future post), take out her cookie cutters and buy a ton of butter.  And then Christmas would be upon us and the beef salad (salt de boeuf) would have little snowmen on it, the sausages would be delicious (and particularly funny to see my mother around them as she is a vegetarian), the desserts would occupy a whole table by itself. And don't get me started on my grandma's pickles.

- the table. If there ever was somebody who outdid me on decor, that was my grandma. With her silverware and fine porcelain table set, her serving dishes and perfect centrepieces, the wreaths and the Christmas tree. I have the fondest of memories about it. Everything would be brought out, shined and polished, set perfectly and then enjoyed. I think this is one of the reasons why I've never saved anything for later. Things are to be enjoyed, not put aside until they have no more to give. My grandma's table must have seen hundreds of dinner, dozens of Christmases and New Years, I can't count how many birthdays, and all in good spirit. If a plate broke or a fork got lost she wouldn't even flinch. 

- caroling has also always been big "business" in Romania. There are professional carollers as I call the. People who sing in the church choir or any other choir you can think of who them go around before, during and after Christmas singing the vast repertoire of Romanian Christmas carols. When I was a kid, I was transfixed by these people since Romanian children are expected to go around and carol their families friends and neighbours. You can imagine me goofily going to doors, ringing the bell and then standing there all by myself singing a carol I half knew. But everybody was really sweet and you would get some money from everybody you carolled. As a kid, it was quite a lucrative adventure, and I could only imagine how much money the formerly mentioned professionals were getting. 
The reason why people open their doors to carollers is they believe they will usher the good spirit of Christmas in with their (for the most part) holy songs.  I've started appreciating carollers more as an adult and would love to have them coming at my door, but that is not a thing here in Italy.

Hope you enjoyed hearing about some of the quirky Romanian Christmas traditions.

Kiss and Peace
Miss Sinister

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