Winter customs


Winter Holidays

Category: customs with fixed date
Date of event: 24th of December – 7th of January
Participants: children, young men

The period of twelve days between December 24 and January 7 is one of the richest in ceremonies and customs, some of them of a remarkable archaic and complex nature. All over the Romanian space, this period between Christmas Eve and St. John means the time of carols, the mythical time of the Birth of Lord, loaded with special ritual meanings.
Christmas is a royal "feast" and can be considered the first Christian specific feast, if related to the Easter or Pentecost – which are linked to ancient Jewish holidays. On the Christmas Eve day and night, and in some places even on Christmas Day, people take their carols from door to door. The practice is known as "Moş Ajun” (Father Eve) or ”Colindeţ". Those who wander are the children of the village.

The Christmas carol traditions can be classified as follows:

Stirring the fire:

On Christmas Eve, charms are made around the fire. Anyone in the house, regardless of age or sex, ”hits” the fire with an axe, saying "Good morning on Christmas Eve / Yet better is the Christmas Day / In a blessed hour / Sheep woolly / Cows milky / Horses speedy / People healthy. Let enough food get cooked and the maize and wheat ripen"- then a rod is thrown into the fire.
The carollers receive money, nuts, apple, simits, bagels etc.

Carolling with the Star:
It takes place on the first day of Christmas, and in some places the day before. Those who wander are the children. The carollers wear a star with four - eight points with a handle attached, with tassels, painted sheet and painted saints. In the past, the carollers used to wear tall hats coated with coloured paper and wooden swords, and used to sing at the window.

”The Plough" (Pluguşorul) - a traditional carol on the New Year's day wishing for abundant crops in the year which has just begun

Much better represented in Dolj is the New Year carolling. On the eve of the New Year and sometimes even New Year's Day, the children or sometimes the young villagers ”go with the Plough” around the village. The props: a plough in miniature, made of fir planks, whips and bells. The plough was covered in colourful paper and tassels. The carollers also had on them cow bells and friction drums. The carollers were going from house to house, snapping the whips and reciting the specific verses. While reciting the verses, they used to throw around wheat and oat seeds. Sometimes, they were making a furrow with the plough, throwing seeds behind it. Another sequence of New Year’s carols customs, somewhat complementary to the plough carolling, is called "the sowing". The representation is simple: when the householder came out to pay the carollers, the children threw grains of wheat or maize on his way. Sometimes, on the New Year's Eve, at dusk, the lads would go from house to house, snapping their whips and wearing a pot of green wheat sowed on St. Andrew’s Day.

”Sorcova” (a carol sang by children wearing a stick decorated with colourful artificial flowers, slightly hitting the back or head of their parents or acquaintances in the morning of the New Year, wishing them to be blessed with health and luck)

In the early morning of the New Year, the children, in groups of three or four, went singing the ”Sorcova” carol. Initially, the ”sorcova” was a tree branch adorned with paper flowers and colourful cotton thread. The one to be sang the carol was touched with the ”sorcova” by the children while they sang a simple song: ”Joyful Sorcova / May you live, may you grow old / Like an apple tree, like a pear tree / Like the stem of a rose / Tough as a rock / Fast as an arrow... May you live a long life! In return, they used to receive money, apples, plums, nuts etc.

A particular local ritual which makes a connection at a different level of the community, namely within the extended family, is the custom of "Lifting the children to the beam": on the New Year's Day, the parents take the child to the midwife. The midwife raises the child to the beam and offers him a bagel and other gifts. In turn, the midwife receives presents from the children.
Carolling with the goat: is a special form of masked carolling.
It is performed by the older children (only boys), one of them representing the zoomorphic deity wearing a beautifully crafted mask of a goat, adorned with ribbons, tassels and bells. This custom is generally performed on the first day of the New Year, but sometimes also on the second and third day. The ”Ìbrezaiaî” (the goat) is dressed in a quilt or blanket with colourful paper ribbons, with a clattering wooden head. The others wear traditional costumes decorated with coloured paper and bells. The goat dances in the yard in front of the house, accompanied by flutes or bagpipes.

A special form of carolling is the ”traditional theater” which can still be found in some parts of Dolj county. In Cernătești or Salcia, in Argetoaia commune, is known as ”Viclei” or ”Vicleim” (name derived from the town of Bethleem); it is a custom performed only by boys, as a puppet show accompanied by a band of folk musicians.

The carols period in Dolj ends with onomastic carols on the St. John Day. The custom is known as "The Jordanizing" (Iordănitul). A special ”Jordaning” is practiced in the Ghindeni commune.

With St. John's Day the cycle of winter customs ends. Only in the Caraula commune it ends on January 8, when masked lads, together with bands of musicians, "Walk the Ugly" from door to door in the village to scare away the evil spirits.

Obs. For further documentation, see Archive of CJCPCT Dolj (http://www.traditiidoljene.ro/)

The ritual guarding of the wells

Category: customs with fixed date
Date of event: on the night between the 6th and the 7th of January.
Participants: children, young people, old people, recently women.

The custom is still practiced in the villages in the South of the ethnographic part of Dolj (in Poiana Mare, Desa, Negoi, Dobridor, Moțăței, Maglavit, Golenți, Catane, Bistreț, Unirea, (Risipiți), Ciupercenii Noi, Smârdan, Galiciuica.
The wells are guarded for not being spoiled (straws, chaff, ash etc. are discarded in wells) Those who fail to keep wells clean are punished, insulted and forced to clean the well until morning.
Starting from the afternoon of January 6 (the Baptism of Jesus / the Twelfth Day) the wells are adorned with rushes, reeds, branches of fir. In Poiana Mare commune, in Moțăței and in Maglavit traditional colourful towels, rugs or carpets were brought to ornament the wells.
People bring straws, cobs and wood (or tires) to the wells, to maintain the fire that will burn all night.
The custom apparently dates back from the Turkish invasions in the area, when the wells were guarded to avoid being poisoned.
Today, the guarding of the wells is especially an opportunity for the families living in the streets with wells to enjoy the time together, with no shortage of music and dance.
In the morning, those who come to the well wash their hands and face with water, and the young men who have been guarding the well go ”Jordanizing”. The water for the ”Jordanizing” is taken only from the wells which have been guarded and kept clean until the morning of January 7 (on St. John Day).
Obs. For further documentation, see Archive of CJCPCT Dolj (http://www.traditiidoljene.ro/)

The ”Baptism” of the horses

Category: customs with fixed date
Date of event: on the 6th of January.
Participants: the horsebreeders in the community

The custom is still practiced in some places in the south of Dolj county: Băileşti, Dobridor, Moţăţei. On Epiphany, after the holy water is blessed, the priest stands before the church and "baptises" (sprinkles holy water) on both horses and their owners; the freshly curried horses, adorned with colored ribbons, red tassels red bells, are strolling the streets of the villages together with their riders, for the latters to "swagger" with them, to show the community how well they cared for them during the winter.
After the "baptism" there is an equestrian competition to prove whose animal is faster.
Obs. For further documentation, see Archive of CJCPCT Dolj (http://www.traditiidoljene.ro/)

"The Jordanizing" (Iordănitul)

Category: customs with fixed date
Date of event: on the dawn of January 6
Participants: children, unmarried young boys (after getting married, they begin the ritual of guarding the wells); in some villages, in the recent years, girls also go ”Jordanizing" (to raise money).
The custom is practiced in almost all villages (going with St. John). People bring with them a bowl of holy water taken from the church on the day of Epiphany and a tuft of dried basil, or clean water taken from the wells guarded at night in the villages from the southern Dolj, and go to their relatives and to those called John or Joan, or even every family on the street. They wish: "May you live many years from now and happy birthday! Long live St. John!"
In the villages from the south of Dolj, the children or unmarried young people take clean water from the wells guarded all night and basil, and walk the streets of the village from house to house and shout "Hurray! Long live St. John! Hurray!" They pour water into the hands of the hosts, who wash with it, or sprinkle them with basil, for this receiving money, drinks or sweets.
Sometimes, animals are also sprinkled with basil.
"The Jordanizing" marks the end of the cycle of winter customs in Dolj.
In Ghindeni, a different kind of "Jordanizing" is performed. In the Caraula commune, the winter holiday season ends on January 8 with the ritual called "Walking the Ugly" - a unique custom in Dolj county.
Obs. For further documentation, see Archive of CJCPCT Dolj (http://www.traditiidoljene.ro/)

"Walking the Ugly"

Category: customs with fixed date
Date of event: annually, on the 8th of January
Participants: the lads in the community

The custom is practiced only in the Caraula commune, on the 8th of January, marking the end of the winter holiday season.
On this day, the young people who have guarded the wells on the night between the Epiphany and St. John (6 to 7 January) and afterwards went ”Jordanizing” (7 January) will wear some special costumes, disguised so as not to be recognized, make themselves look "ugly" and go from house to house, driving out the evil spirits and scaring the little ones, actually trying to give them a lesson in courage. The bravest of the children let themselves caught by "the ugly" and then, when lift up by the ugly, they try to recognize who is hiding behind the mask. In a general joy, the ritual starts on the music played by the fiddlers accompanying them and the host, glad to have escaped from the evil spirits, honours ”the ugly” with food and wine.
This is also an opportunity for those who left the village to meet their loved ones, because on this occasion they return especially to take part in this event.
Obs. For further documentation, see Archive of CJCPCT Dolj (http://www.traditiidoljene.ro/)

"Walking the Ugly"

Tryphon – the spiritual protector of vineyards (The Vine Feast)

Category: customs with fixed date
Date of event: the 1st of February
Participants: the men in the community

On the 1st day of February, on the eve of The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, the Orthodox Church celebrates St. Tryphon (or Trif) with a ”Trif the Fool” version – as known in the traditional Romanian communities.
The Feast of St. Tryphon is not specific to Oltenia, as one might think, but is actually practiced throughout the country.
As mythological character, apparently with no relation to the religious figure, Trif is in the pagan consciousness the protector of the fertile plants, keeping them safe against pests (bugs and insects) and, in the cristian perception, he is the vine protector.
In Oltenia, Trif is identified with Saint Tryphon and is considered the spiritual protector of the vineyards; therefore, he is celebrated in the places with large areas of cultivated vines, particularly at Segarcea, Cerăt, Galicea Mare, Izvoare (Corlate).

Since ancient times, the people in Segarcea gathered in the morning of this day with their wagons pulled by horses, bringing flasks of wine, food and, with great joy, they would go together to the vineyards where the priest hallowed the vineyard, sprinkling holy water, kept from the Epiphany day, on the vineyards and fruit trees. The mass had the purpose of invoking the divine help in fighting pests, but also for fertilization in the new agrarian year: "Lord, from your Holy Kingdom lay your eyes on this wealth and bless this vineyards of Segarcea, keep them safe from all enchantments and all evil, from insidious temptation and scheming of evil people and give this vine its fruit in a time filled with Your blessing, and keep away from it all beasts and wildness, and the worm, the fly, the drought, the rust, the heat and winds that may bring damage to it. Lord, have mercy! May these vineyards and these crops be blessed, by the power of this holy water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!"
The prayer was said three times, while with a tuft of basil dipped in holy water, the priest would sprinkle the vineyards in all cardinal points.
The ritual ended with a copious feast - as a sign of plenty, sprinkled with quality wine - standing for the fertile vineyard in the year which was just beginning.
Placed originally in the ritual ”spectrum”, the Feast of St. Tryphon tends to pass nowadays - in an increasingly evident manner, in the spectacular spectrum, becoming more and more a manifestation devoid of any magical or religious content, as there have been many attempts to propose different foreign practices to the custom.
Obs. For further documentation, see Archive of CJCPCT Dolj (http://www.traditiidoljene.ro/)

Tryphon – the spiritual protector of vineyards (The Vine Feast)

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