Christmas in Bucovina

In Bucovina, Christmas is the holiday that is kept, perhaps, more than in other places, without reat deviations from tradition.

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Christmas is one of the most important holidays for the Romanian people, for it celebrates the birth of Jesus, being closely linked to the popular spirituality that individualizes and defnes us. The time of folk holidays is a time filled with magical – religious practices, rituals and ceremonies, with prohibitions and superstitions. The Christmas Eve was considered the day which made the transition from the profane time to the celebration time, so that all the activities were closely related to ritual acts that ensured, according to tradition, the health and the family welfare. Every action had its meaning and purpose, some even with binding character: the table with the fast ritual food, the placing of straw under the tablecloth,  waiting the priest with the icon of God’s Holy Birth, making sure that the animals are well fed, all these were part of the celebration rituals of the feast, so that traditions were respected. Much like today, the whole community was preparing for Christmas, from cleaning the household and the surroundings to the purifcation of the soul required by the fast period.

On Christmas Eve the fast meals were prepared. There were twelve menus, made of boiled wheat with sugar and walnuts, dry plums, borscht, cabbage rolls with gruel, mushrooms, cabbage pies (“vărzare”). The Christmas Eve dining was served in a festive setting. The householders put straw, salt and bran under the tablecloth, the hoop and the wine in the middle of the table, the fast food and the bundle of hemp, called “the bundle priest”, which were given to the priest after the consecration or, in some places where the table remained seated given only on the Epiphany Day. The family did not sit at the table until the meal had been sanctified. The day of Christmas Eve is a day of “dark fast”.

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Being an important holiday it was also an occasion to make wishes for wealth, health, to announce the Birth of Jesus, meaning preserved even today and transmitted through carols. The Carols complete the festive atmosphere of Bucovina’s villages, being usually taken up also in the urban areas. The children are the Frst to start the carols. They organize themselves timely, rehearsing the carols, especially the religious ones. If, in past, only the boys went carolling, today the bands also include the girls. Dressed in traditional costumes with bags for coils, walnuts and apples, the groups of carol singers establish their caroling areas and start wandering from house to house, until the nightfall, when it is the turn of young men bands to go carolling. They are also accompanied by instrumentalists, the carol themes being predominantly secular, with nuptial themes where there are girls to be married.

The star carol is still preserved in the villages of Bucovina. The element of props are made of an old sieve, with 6-8 sticks covered with coloured paper that suggest corners of the star. The children who go with the star are called stellar or emperors. They are usually going in bands formed by two or three children. In some areas (Botoşana, Cajvana, Capu Codrului, Paltinu, Molid, Văşcăuţi, Stulpicani, Dorna Candrenilor), carols are also sang on the Epiphany’s Eve, having adapted lyrics. “Viflaimul” or “Irozii” perform as a folk theatre act, marking the moments of Jesus Birth: the Magi’s arrival, their reception by Herod, trying to find out where the baby is. After crossing the train of trick, the householders also went with carol to relatives and friends, godchildren roamed their godparents, an occasion to celebrate and transmit the wealth, health greetings for the New Year.

Source: Suceava County Council

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