Each nation has its own distinct traditions that make it unique among the many fascinating cultures of the world. Romania also has its share, and many of them trace their roots in the superstitious and religious world of the archaic villages.
Reinterpreted in modern times, many of these traditions are so bizarre and funny that only Romanian people can understand them. Here’s our list of 13 of the most original Romanian traditions.
Single women all around the world can now relax about their future love life. All they have to do is put some basil under their pillow on the night of January 6, and they will meet their prince charming. This date marks a popular and important celebration in the Orthodox Calendar, the baptism of Jesus, followed on the next day by the celebration of Saint John.
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On the same day of Boboteaza, January 6, men get to prove their courage or lack of judgment for that matter. To commemorate the baptism of Jesus, which we’re pretty sure took place in much warmer waters, the Orthodox priests ask local men to swim in the freezing waters of local rivers and lakes to bring back to shore a wooden cross they threw there in the first place.
While the priests get to sign their religious songs on the shore, the brave men who make it back with the cross are said to have good luck for the entire year.
Romanian people like to know what’s in store for them in the new year. One of the fun traditions that help them anticipate is Babele. Based on how the weather is like during a single day of your choice, from March 1st to March 9, you’ll know how the rest of the year will turn out to be. Of course, you shouldn’t cheat and check the weather channel before.
A delicious tradition we enjoy a lot is weirdly connected to the tragic death of 40 Christian soldiers killed in ancient Armenia thousands of years ago. Baked in the shape of the number eight, mucenici or sfinti are made of a sweet dough with a honey and nut topping. These yummy sweets that you can also buy from pastry shops represent the sacrifice of the 40 soldiers that were celebrated as saints after Christianity became an official religion.
Photo source: www.cozonaculdolofan.ro
While women are in charge of baking, according to the same tradition, men are allowed to get drunk as they’re supposed to drink 40 to 44 shots of rachiu. If you think this tradition is gender-biased, you’re absolutely right.
If you weren’t lucky enough to dream about your prince charming on Boboteaza, you still have a chance on the night of Sanziene, June 23-24, if you put a couple of Lady’s Bedstraw flowers under your pillow. The tradition has you throwing a bucket of these flowers over the rooftop of your house if you hope to get married.
A magical night when mythical fairies dance in the forests of Romania and the gates of heaven open, Sanziene became in the last years a symbol of the beautiful Romanian blouse, ia.
Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org
Part of the UNESCO Patrimony of Intangible Culture, Calusarii is a group dance with archaic elements, that usually marks the transition from spring to summer. It takes place on Whit Monday.
Reserved only for men who become calusii, this complex dance represents the confrontation the brave calusii have with the maleficent spirits that try to harm them. Documented since the 17th century, but most likely much older, the dance is still practiced today in the south of Romania, in the historical province of Oltenia.
Painted eggs are one of the main symbols of Orthodox Easter in Romania. These colored eggs are also at the heart of a fun competition that lasts the three days of Easter. All you need is a solid egg you’ll knock with the eggs of your friends and family each time one of them says ‘Hristos a inviat’.
Some Romanian people sincerely believe in the superpowers of the church and of priests as its direct representatives. This is why, occasionally, the priests are called to bless a new house, a new car, clothes, and even the more atheist members of the family. As it happens, if you don’t hide in time, you’ll get a big smelly cross drawn on your forehead.
Romanian people are easily bored by the Dracula nonsense. First, because Vlad the Impaler wasn’t Dracula and because Bran Castle isn’t Dracula’s Castle. Second, because we have our own local species of wannabe vampires who hate garlic, the ones and only strigoi.
Fantastic creatures that represent the troubled souls of the dead, strigoi occasionally haunt the relatives of the departed. At least that’s what people in rural Romania believed until not too long ago.
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Eating garlic and even placing garlic around the house on Saint Andrew night, November 30, when strigoii are most active is considered the best way to keep these devil creatures away.
Mask dances are the most colorful part of winter celebrations in Romania. The reenactment of agrarian practices and superstitions, these dances feature locals costumed in goats, bears, and horses. The rituals performed have a well-established plot, Good versus Evil or humans versus nature, all on the rapid rhythm of loud drums.
Pork meat is the main ingredient for Christmas meals, but this is only half the story. Killing the pig, a form of a contemporary reenactment of pagan sacrifices is a big part of the winter traditions in rural Romania. In fact, many guest houses advertise it as part of their winter package. If you empathize with animal rights, it’s best to choose a host that shares your concerns.
Each Orthodox church has one or more saints to protect it, usually painted above the entrance. To thank the saint for all his or her hard work and blessing, locals gather one day of the year, usually the day that saint was killed, and celebrate with lots of food and wine in the court of the local church.
A candid and authentic tradition in the villages of Romania, these religious celebrations also mean oversized pilgrimages in cities like Iasi or Bucharest.
We saved for last a more modern tradition you can witness every summer weekend in Romania.
If you’ve ever seen in Romania a random bride on the streets or in a club without a wedding party nearby, it’s not because she ran away. Far from it. She was in fact ‘kidnapped’ by some of her friends who will take her back to the party and her husband only in exchange for a symbolic ransom.
These are 13 of the traditions that Romanian people understand better than anyone else. If you know more, please share it with us in the comments section.