Romanian holidays are a mix of the international and local ones deep-rooted in tradition and specific to the main religion practiced in Romania, Christian Orthodoxy. But regardless of origin, one thing is for sure, Romanians love to celebrate and do not shy from lavish ceremonies or street manifestations to mark the different kinds of events throughout the year.
If a trip to Romania is on your list, be it only a day in Bucharest for a cultural and historical tour, or an extended vacation discovering Transylvania, here is a list with the main Romanian Winter Holidays and what to expect.
I assure you that visiting Romania during an important holiday is a great way to see more of the Romanian customs and traditions and an opportunity to understand better the Romanian way of life.
Romanian Holidays – customs and traditions
National Day/Great Union
The first day of winter coincides with maybe the most important day in Romania, National Day. Also called the Great Union (Marea Unire), it celebrates the union of Transylvania with Romania. Won after World War I, Transylvania became part of Romania in 1918 along with the provinces of Banat, Bucovina, and Bessarabia.
There are celebrations in all major cities but the main events take place in Bucharest and Alba-Iulia. In Bucharest expect a large military parade with planes, helicopters, war machines and soldiers that march on Kiseleff Street and pass under The Arc of Triumph. Traditional Romanian food and music concerts are also on the list.
Alba-Iulia is the birthplace of modern Romania and with a very well preserved citadel, it makes the perfect spot to see the manifestations. This year (2018) marks 100 years from the Great Union and the festivities in Alba-Iulia are promised to be epic.
On the 24th of January Romanians celebrate a second important union, The Small Union when the Romanian Principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia united in 1859. Since 2017 it has also become a public holiday.
The most wonderful time of the year starts on the 6th of December on Saint Nicholas Day. Although he brings gifts for children, he’s not the same with Santa Claus. He leaves his presents (usually fruits or sweets for the well-behaved ones and a stick for the naughty ones) in the kid’s boots.
The tradition is rooted in Christianity in the story of Saint Nicholas that used to help poor children and offer those gifts.
Christmas (25th-26th) is a lovely time to be in Romania. This is the most beloved of the Romanian Holidays.
There are several Christmas Markets in all the major cities and, due to the continental weather, most of our Christmases are white. Expect carols, mulled wine, meaty and fatty dishes served with pickles and homemade desserts.
A truly unique experience is to celebrate Christmas in Maramureș and Bucovina. Here the celebrations are held in the traditional Romanian style along with rides in horse sleighs, caroling in authentic traditional clothes and enjoying delicious home cooked dishes.
New Years Celebrations
Right after Christmas, on the first of January, Romanians celebrate the New Year. In Bucharest and all other major cities, there are concerts and fireworks that mark the beginning of the New Year.
Starting with New Year’s Eve expect to hear Plugușorul, a traditional Romanian type of carol rooted in the old agricultural heritage of Romania and meant to bring prosperity and wealth.
In the countryside, especially in traditional villages the celebrations have a more authentic feel and start with gatherings where young men dressed as various monsters dance and shout to scare the old year away. In the morning children visit their relatives and neighbors chanting prosperity verses and throwing rice and wheat seeds on their floors.
Valentine’s Day and Dragobete
In recent years Romanians embraced Valentine’s Day and celebrate it with romantic dinners, heart-shaped balloons, and candies. But before that, there were Dragobete on the 24th of February.
Although etymologist didn’t come to a mutual conclusion about the origin of the name of the celebration in itself be it of Christian influence or pagan, one thing is sure, it celebrates love, fertility, and rebirth.
In the countryside, young unmarried people would meet in front of the church and went into the woods to gather early spring flowers, a pretext to get to chat with the one they fancied. Old people would give special attention to their farm animals and sacrifice livestock is forbidden on this day.
Romanian Holidays are a great experience for any traveler and a unique way to experience the authentic Romanian way of life. They are an opportunity to travel through history and find more about romanian legends and myths, to see traditional clothes wore by the villagers and also take part in one of a kind rituals like Going with the bear or Goat (traditional dances and caroling).