New Year Traditions in Romania: Fictional Characters and Animal Dances
The New Year traditions in Romania are colorful and cheerful, a mix of pre-Christian rituals, folklore, costumes and thematic dances that underline the predominant agrarian lifestyle from the past. The best way to enjoy this bizarre yet fascinating world is either spending the end of the year in a traditional village or attending the events organized during the Christmas fairs.
It all starts on the morning of the New Year’s Eve when groups of children go from house to house performing ‘Plugusorul’ (the small plow). Equipped with bells and even wipes, the children recite traditional or adapted lyrics, usually featuring some agrarian or historical myths. In almost all cases, the main message is the same: health wishes for the hosts and rich crops for the year to come. In the evening of the same day, groups of adults, dressed in traditional costumes and playing musical instruments, perform ‘Plugul’ (the big plow), even bringing along a plow with horses or bulls in more traditional villages.
But, the most colorful New Year’s Eve traditions are the mask-dances, magical ceremonials of death and rebirth, with a variety of representations from the animal world like goats, horses or bears, fictional characters like the devil and symbolic beings like the ugly, the beautiful, the elder, the military, the gypsy, the bride, the emperor and many more. Each role and performance has a special meaning attached to the past cultural reality of the Romanian villages.
Attractive and spectacular, the mask-dances are the highlights of New Year traditions in Romania. One of the most spectacular is without a doubt the ‘dance of the bear’, an iconic animal from the forests of Romania, the top of the chain large carnivore. Symbolizing the death and rebirth of the New Year, the dance of the bear brings to the scene elaborate costumes and two main characters, the bear and the gypsy who chains the bear, and makes it perform for money. The dance is usually accompanied by the music of drums that dictate the rhythm of the performance, starting with the call of the bear and ending with the dance of the bear.
More animals are represented in these thematic dances, the goat being the main character. The ‘dance of the goat’ highlights powerful magical practices that can resurrect the animal after it was charmed, another symbol of the death and rebirth of nature, but also of rural superstitions where charms were still used back in the day. Usually, the goat mask is carved from wood, covered in fur, with a jaw that moves up and down and has the horns of a real goat while the body is made from a multicolored carpet. The dancing goat is accompanied by other symbolic characters like the elders, the ugly, the beautiful, all parts of this magical story.
Another mask-dance inspired from the animal world is the ‘little horses’ that presents the close connection between people and horses, the human characters often being represented through military costumes, a connection to the past wars.
These are the most popular New Year traditions in Romania, but more local versions exist in all the regions of the country. Seeing one of this live events is definitely one of the best parts of your winter vacation in Romania.