The Viflaim – staging the birth of Jesus Christ
Because we recently visited some beautiful villages from the ethnographic region of Maramureş, one of the most traditional areas of Romania, we thought to present you the Viflaim, an authentic winter custom. Generally, most of the local traditions can be discovered in the countryside. The best known and widely spread winter customs in Maramureş County are the ones connected to the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Maramureş County is still preserving alive many of the customs and traditions practiced for the winter celebrations. Along the famous customs of caroling, the Viflaim remains an unaltered tradition.
The Viflaim is a popular play with a sacred theme which addresses the myth of Jesus’s birth. There are very few villages where the scene is still played and this is due to the high numbers of characters needed and the careful preparations required to be done well in advance.
The spectacular popular play that combines ancient perceptions about good and bad with Christian legends is kept alive in many villages form Iza Valley, Tisa Valley, Vişeu Valley and not the last in minority of Germans, Hungarians from the historical region of Maramureş.
During the winter celebrations, an important role was and still is played by the practice of mask disguising. Those wearing the masks were seeking to obtain, along with the real or magic protection, the spiritual connection with the alleged superhuman powers.
The Viflaim describes the scene of the birth of Jesus, combining the Christian dogma with the magic ritual. Played, starting with the Christmas Day till Epiphany, this dramatic popular play, is gathering around 24 characters, all suggestively masked: Mother Mary, the angels, Joseph, the Shepard and the three wise men. The negative characters will be grouped together as well: Herod on the thrones, the devils in their specific hierarchy known the region of Maramureş (Lucifer, the Inspector, and the Cheater), the Death and the Wise from Herod’s kingdom.
All the players are simple villagers with no specific acting studies. They start preparations for the Viflaim in Christmas Lent. They self teach the roles themselves and the rehearsals are done in the evenings, either at one of the actor’s house, in the school or in the local cultural center.
Photos: Dan Tautan