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The article was written 30.1.2007.
Exploring folk traditions
Romania provides the tourists all over the world memorable vacations through its wonderful and rich culture, its wild decors and the various entertainment and outdoor activities. Free of the communism rigors, the glow of the Romanian tourism has finally reached the Occident and has turned this country into a unique destination.
If you want to discover the real Romania, you will first have to learn its culture. Its ancient roots go way back in the time, when the Roman civilization first merged with the native one, and there are plenty of monuments and ancient ruins that prove the complexity of the Romanian culture. At the Black Sea shore you will have the chance to visit the Tomis, Callatis and Histria fortresses, that were build in the 7th century by the Romans, or the Trophaeum Traiani monument from Adamclisi.
The cities have their own history and you can travel in time practically, few centuries ago, visiting the particular Baroque architecture in the west of the country, medieval accents in the centre of Romania and the French eclectic buildings in Bucharest, the capital of the country.
Ancient traditions and local customs
But the thing that really separates Romania from other European traveling destination is its amazing folklore heritage. For many years this was a hidden treasure, compelling ancient traditions and local customs as well as numerous artisan objects that express entirely the Romanian spirituality.
The folk artisans from Romania are famous for their creations, true masterpieces from wood (icons, sculptures with native patterns, spoons or furniture), textile materials (rugs, traditional masks) and ceramic items. The icons painted on glass, the traditional costumes and jewelry, the painted eggs for Easter, all are a part of the Romanian culture and can be the subject of a great ethnographical vacation.
Tip: If you want to have a wonderful souvenir from Romania, such as painted eggs, wool rugs, traditional costumes or wooden sculptures, you can find them in shops or during the traditional festivals, when all craftsmen gather to expose and sell their products.
Untouched by the modern civilization
The order of things has been the same for hundreds of years, and you can still see the shepherds who take their flocks on the mountain green landscapes in summer and return in the winter in their villages. Some places are untouched by the modern civilization and the locals use the carts drawn by horses or bulls for the daily works and the rows of haystacks complete this virgin territory filled with traditions and local customs.
You can witness folk festivals that take place each year for centuries and which represent powerful manifestations of the local customs, not just a show put up for the tourists.
The ancient festivals and customs are mainly related to the most important celebrations during the year, which are Easter, Christmas and the New Year. In addition, every region has local customs when celebrating all sorts of events related to ancient calendars, the change of the seasons or the work of the land.
The first major celebration of the year occurs on Easter. The Romanians celebrate it with devotion just like their ancestors. In the rural areas the old traditions of Easter required people to go to the church and paint the eggs with leaves of onion and only in red color (which symbolizes the color of the Christ's blood). However, in the cities, people prefer dying the eggs in all colors with paint from the supermarket and have exquisite meals while waiting for the Easter Bunny. What you will observe though, is that the customs are still strongly related to the ancient ones, especially when it comes to the traditional food.
The Easter traditions are transmitted from one generation to another and they have as a central point the remembrance of the Jesus Christ Resurrection. Families are gathering and spend quality time while enjoying the traditional food for Easter, before they share their food and red eggs with the poor at the church. In the night before Easter, people go to the church and listen to the religious mess, and at the end they will take The Light into their homes, meaning that they will light their candles from the priest's sacred one. They do this in order to symbolically bring luck and peace in their homes and families.
Easter is an occasion for friends and family to enjoy the traditional food, like lamb borsch and steak, the traditional "sarmale", the painted eggs and "pasca", a sweet pie with cheese and raisins.
In the rural areas, such as Maramures, the painting of the eggs has become a work of art in the true meaning of the word. The women spend weeks for preparing the Easter eggs by painting them with fine pencils in complicated traditional patterns. There is a special technique of emptying the egg from its content and treating it with a special solution that makes it very hard to crack and preserve the pattern for years.
It is the custom that in the Easter morning, the members of the family and not only knock the eggs to see which one is luckier. The person who has the harder egg and cracks the other one it is said that is luckier. They hold the eggs and the one that knocks first says "Christ has reborn" while the other responds "True he's reborn".
Blending tradition with the modernity hasn't changed a bit the true nature of Romanian people who enjoy every holiday as an occasion to celebrate life in its simplest details.
That is why the Romanian Christmas is also welcomed with ancient traditions, much more complicated than the meaning of the word "Christmas". Christmas begins with a 6 weeks Advent, and in certain rural regions of the country people don't even open the radio or go to parties just as a part of the advent.
A custom that is unique and it only happens in Romania, since medieval times, is sacrificing a pig on the Ignat day, on 20th of December. It is said that in the night before, the pig dreams the knife that will sacrifice him, and children are marked with a cross in their foreheads with blood from the pig to be healthy for the next year. The men sacrifice the pig, while the women prepare it and make all kind of pork specialties, like "tuba", "caltabos" and sausages for the Christmas meal.
New Years day
On the New Years day, the children use a "Sorcova", a bouquet of colored paper flowers to wish a happy new year while touching the adults lightly with the Sorcova.
Those are the main celebrations for the Romanian people, but there are lots of smaller ones, just as traditional and charming for any tourist that chooses to visit this land filled with ancient traditions.
On the first day of March, the Martisor day brings the symbol of spring in all regions of the country. It is the custom that men offer to the women in their lives a "martisor", which is a small decorative object than can be worn as a broach. What is particular to this object is that it has a string with white and red (white being the symbol of men wisdom and red the color of women's vitality), and it is said that it brings luck. In the cities, the "martisor" is sometimes replaced by jewelry and gifts, but whatever the choice, it still remains a courteous gesture for women of every age.
Participate at the local customs and traditions
For tourists all over the world, there are many occasions to participate at the local customs and traditions, during those annual celebrations everywhere in the country, but there are also traditional festivals that take place only in certain regions of the country.
You can participate in Maramures at the Hora at Prislop festival, in the third Sunday of August, each year. It is a celebration of the folk culture of Transylvania, with many traditional objects, popular costumes, dances and songs.
At the end of August, in Sibiu you can enjoy the Medieval Festival, where you will be able to witness a trip back in time, with knights and princesses, actors, musicians and dancers who put up wonderful shows for the audience. The decors are credible, as the city was declared the cultural capital of Europe in 2007.
The Maidens Fair on Mount Gaina is a great attraction for tourists and locals as well. It takes place on the closest Sunday to the 20th of July and it is an ancient tradition used as a way for the families with marriageable girls and boys to meet and arrange the weddings. It is a great occasion to see the skills of popular craftsmen, the local dances and songs, and the women who play the alpenhorn at the opening of the festival.
The complexity of the Romanian culture comes from the mixture of cultures both from the ethnical point of view and the historical perspective. You can see how the modern life encounters the past and the ancient traditions, creating a land of mystery and harmony.