Christmas in Romania means snow (almost guaranteed), celebrations and mountains of good food. Christians throughout the world celebrate Christmas as a special time, and Romania, an Orthodox Christian country, is no exception. So business does slow down. While the standard time off work at Christmas in the UK is usually one to two weeks, it tends to be longer in Romania. Here’s why.
You can already get a whiff of winter celebrations on the 15th of November, the first day of the pre- Christmas Fast. It is as well the date on which, officially, snow is expected, not only in the mountains, where the temperature has been well below freezing for a while, but in Bucharest and other urban areas too. Once the snow is established, it can stay until the end of March.
Winter celebrations in Romania start on the 30th of November, which is St. Andrew’s Day, a public holiday and the occasion for a big fuss. Yes, I know he’s the patron saint of Scotland, but his connections with Romania are as big if not bigger. It was he who brought Christianity to the Romanians. He died in Dobrogea, and a beautiful church bearing his name was raised in his memory, very close to the cave where he spent the final part of his life. It is a fascinating place to visit, not very far from the Danube, surrounded by peaceful woods. The cave and the stone on which he used to sleep have been carefully preserved and are open to visit. Many Romanians bear his name, and it is a Romanian tradition to celebrate name days (`ziua onomastica`), especially if you are named for a revered saint. The ancient and deeply embedded tradition is to congratulate the people bearing the celebrated name with the formula `La multi ani!` (This is roughly equivalent to many happy returns, the same formula used for birthdays.) If your friend intends to celebrate their name day, you may well get an invitation for a beer, lunch or dinner.
St. Andrew is followed immediately by the National Day, the 1st of December. It too is a public holiday and one of the most important celebrations, as it commemorates the day in 1918 when Transylvania decided to unify with the rest of Romania, forming the Romania of today. The event is usually celebrated by a military parade at the Triumphal Arch in Bucharest and by a reception offered by the President. It is as well the day when the Christmas lights are switched on in Bucharest.
The National Day is followed by the celebration of St. Nicholas, on the 6th of December. It is a celebration much loved by both kids and grownups. Kids find sweets in their shoes in the morning and the excitement lasts all day. Many Romanians are called `Nicolae` or `Nicoleta` so it’s is a great opportunity to call your acquaintances with those names and congratulate them with `La multi ani!’ (Tip: the letter i at the end of a word is silent.) It’s also a great opportunity for them to invite you for a beer, lunch or dinner, if they intend to celebrate. Many of them will.
The 17th to the 22nd December are more sombre days, recalling the events of the 1989 Revolution, which helped Romania part with Communism, when over 1000 people died.
Christmas Eve and Christmas day are usually spent with the family. Many people go to Church on Christmas morning, so the normally crowded churches become over-crowded then. As British people love turkey, Romanian Christmas meals revolve around pork cooked in countless styles, washed down with plenty of wine, plum brandy and beer and followed by a sweet bread (`cozonac`) and other homemade cakes. Romania is famous for its delicious cuisine, and Christmas is the best time to experience it.
Christmas is followed by the celebration of St. Stephen on the 27th of December. Many Romanians are called `Stefan` or `Stefania` and it is, of course, yet another opportunity to party. It is as well the time when attention moves to the next celebration, New Year`s Eve. Romanians like partying, so expect the celebration to start early in the evening and to last until dawn.
On the 1st of January Romanians celebrate St. Basil (Vasile). It is a popular name for men; a special religious service takes place on the morning of the first day of the year, imposing a sober touch which prepares the following two very big celebrations: Epiphany, celebrated on the 6th of January, and St. John (Ion) on the 7th of January. Ion/Ioana is a very popular name in Romania; so many Romanians celebrate that day too. St. John’s Day marks as well the end of the celebrations, so one can realistically expect to start having emails and phone calls finally answered. However, if planning to travel on business, please remember the snow. It might be a delight for the little ones, and Romanians are usually better prepared for it than we are, but sometimes it can become a problem when travelling in rural localities.
Lorela Broucher is Managing Director of Europe Market Entry Services Ltd trading as The British Romanian Consultancy, an enterprise specialised in providing market entry services to EU and non-EU businesses committed to doing business in Romania and Central & Eastern Europe. For more info, visit our website at: www.thebrc.co.uk