The New Year traditions in Romania are colorful and cheerful, a mix of pre-Christian rituals, folklore, costumes, and dances. The best way to enjoy this bizarre yet fascinating show is spending New Year Eve in a traditional village or seeing a New Year parade.
The rituals start on the morning of New Year’s Eve. Groups of children go from house to house to recite the poem Plugusorul (the small plow), wishing people health and rich crops in the coming year. The message underlines past realities when a family’s livelihood was based on small-scale agriculture.
In the evening, groups of adults dressed in traditional costumes start their own tour. They play music and recite Plugul (the big plow. In the past, they even used to bring a real plow carried by horses or bulls to make their performance special. Still, don’t expect to see this live show anymore, not even in the villages where the traditions of Plugusorul still go on.
The most colorful of the New Year’s Eve traditions in Romania is the performance of animal dances. The meaning of these complex ceremonials of death and rebirth also goes back to the agrarian lifestyle from the past. A variety of representations from the animal world like goats, horses, or bears dance along with fictional characters like the devil. The ugly, the beautiful, the elder, the military, the gypsy, the bride, and the emperor join the dance.
The most popular is the ‘dance of the bear’, an iconic animal from the forests of Romania, the top of the chain large carnivore. Symbolizing the arrival of the New Year, this dance brings to the scene two actors, the bear and the gypsy. The latter keeps the bear character in chains and makes him perform for money on loud drum music. The theme of the dance is inspired by a past reality when ursarii tamed and trained real bears. Luckily, this doesn’t happen anymore.
Photo source http://vechiul-regat.blogspot.com
More animal characters appear in these thematic dances, and the goat is one of the best represented. The ‘dance of the goat’ tells the story of powerful magical practices that resurrect the animal touched by an evil spirit. You would expect it to be pure imagination, but superstitions and practices of charms were widespread in the countryside.
Usually, the goat mask is made 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 a multicolored carpet. Other characters like the elders, the ugly, the beautiful usually dance along with the goat. If you’re in the right place, you can see more traditional dances with animal masks like horses and stags, symbols of youth and strength.
While these dances are the most spectacular New Year traditions in Romania, some lost family practices are also worth mentioning.
The weather was a constant worry in the countryside long before climate change and taking Instagram photos on vacations. As New Year Eve was an almost mystic moment, it was a great time to plan the crops using specific rituals. One of these was the onion calendar. Each family cut an onion into 12 equal slices, one for each month, adding the same quantity of salt. The water each layer had in the first morning of the year showed how much rain to expect in the coming months.
These are the most popular New Year traditions in Romania, still carried on in the smaller villages. Don’t miss a New Year parade and the dances if you’re spending your winter vacation in Romania.
What about you? What are your favorite New Year traditions?