Monday, December 6, 2010

Apple #496: Christmas in Romania

I decided to find out how different countries celebrate Christmas.  I'm especially interested in how people decorate their trees, but it's hard to find photos of Christmas trees that regular people have in their houses, especially since I don't speak their language.  So I thought I'd find a few details here and there about about different countries' traditions.

I picked Romania to start with because that was, for some reason, the first country that came into my head.

Romania is shown in yellow on this map
(Map from Aries Shipping Agency)

  • It's traditional in Romania to fast before Christmas.  Then on December 20th, which is the feast day of St. Ignatius, they break the fast by slaughtering a pig, cooking it, and eating it.
  • I'm not sure how many contemporary people still fast, and I'm sure that Romanians who live in cities don't kill a pig.  But a lot of Romanians do still eat pork on the 20th.  That includes bacon and pork sausages. Pickles and plum brandy are also usually part of the Ignat feast.
  • One of the ways children anticipate Christmas is by going from house to house singing songs and carrying symbols of Christmas. In Transylvania, they hold up a pizãrã, which is a fancy handkerchief tied to a lance.  In other parts of Romania, they make a large star out of colored paper.  Sometimes the stars are lit up from the inside, and sometimes they're decorated with foil and bells.
  • There's more cooking the last few days before Christmas, for about 2 or 3 days straight.  Romanians make pork sausage, cabbage leaves stuffed with pork and rice, and cozonac, which is a cake that sometimes has nuts and raisins in it.
Cozonac, traditional Romanian Christmas cake
(Photo from Alecssandra on International Christmas)

  • Gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning.  The guy who brings their gifts is not Santa but Moş Craciun.
  • Traditional Christmas presents included lots of different kinds of nuts, fruit such as oranges or apples or raisins, and bread that's twisted or knotted, all of which were supposed to symbolize gifts of a fruitful harvest the next year.  Children also sometimes get coins.
  • Christmas morning, starting early, there's lots of singing and musicians playing instruments in the streets. Children join in the singing too, and sometimes

Children singing Christmas carols and carrying the twisted, circular bread.
(Photo from Alecssandra on International Christmas)

Here's what some Romanian Christmas tree ornaments look like:

These are mouth-blown and hand-painted ornaments made in Romania.  They're not vintage but "vintage style." Unfortunately, you have to buy them in a box of 96, and at just under $7, a box will set you back $317.
(Photo from

These are actual, vintage Romanian ornaments, made of glass
(Photo was available at Vintage Christmas Decorations)

Porcelain "lace" ornaments like this one also seem to be popular in Romania. This one will set you back $55.
(Photo from Carousel of Gifts)

A porcelain ornament decorated with "Merry Christmas" in Romanian
(Photo and ornament from Cafe Press)

I have a feeling those ornaments might be too fancy for most of Romanians.  Here's one person's Christmas tree in Romania:

(Photo from Christmas tree in)

Christmas tree in downtown Braşov, Romania.
(Photo from Eu Sunt un Romerican)

Institute for Cultural Memory, Romanian Christmas
Pocket Cultures, Christmas in Romania
Santa's Net, Christmas in Romania
Holiday Spot, Christmas in Romania, Romania Christmas Traditions
Miss Bimbo, International Christmas and Other Holidays!


  1. Hi, Daily Apple! I liked this entry. My mom's side of the family are Transylvania Saxons (aka Germans) from Romania. They fled Romania before "the iron curtain came down"/WWII and lost everything.

    Anywho, my Uncle Fred was the oldest -- 12 when they left, I think -- and I love hearing him talk about his memories. I asked him if he remembered traditions listed in the third bullet. He said,

    "The first one: yes, we went from house to house singing Christmas carols--offered a glass of Schnapps or Gluehwein and Lebkuchen (for young adults--We continued this in Columbus with our Saxon youth group); the second one: no; the third one: I remember something--the shape of a star, but a thin wood frame with white parchment paper with a light inside."
    Froehlicher Advent

    Froehlicher Advent, JW!

  2. My mother adds: The pizara custom might be Rumanians in Transylvania rather than Germans. There were those two ethnic groups in Transylvania, plus Hungarians.

  3. Thanks, Kristina! It's always interesting to hear how people's real-life experiences compare with general descriptions. I'm glad this entry gave you an opportunity to talk with your family about their traditions.

    Happy Advent to you too!
    --the apple lady

  4. Typically most Romanians cannot afford having a Christmas tree or decorating it or lighting it up for that matter. Only few with money and had been out of the country, to see how the civilized world live. Here they fast for Christmas while everyone else is in the spirit of giving. well they have nothing to give anyway. They also do that for Easter and in the summertime. Fun bunch. zzzzzzzzz Romanian and ashamed.


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