The Christmas carol institution
December 28, 2009Posted by on
For Romanians, Christmas carols are not only a custom, but a real institution, an entire process with very precise rules maintained for centuries. Of course, modern life did to these customs what it does best to all traditions – nearly wipe them out. Still, in some villages spread across the country, you can still find “old school” Christmas caroling, and it’s worth a closer look.
From Christmas Eve till New Year’s Eve, carol singers are passing from house to house announcing the Birth of Jesus and spreading wishes of good health and prosperity.
Traditionally, singers are usually young men as well as grown up men in groups of up to 30 or 40. In some regions, each member of the group has another task, besides singing – for example, initiating local youth in dancing and other folk traditions.
The group of the carol singers has 40 days to prepare, from November 15th, the beginning of the Christmas fasting period, till December 24th.
Each member of the group has his own duties. An important moment for the group is when they choose the leader of the group and the main choosing criteria for this is the ornament on the hat, called “the carol”. The group has also a cashier, a man responsible with the “supplies” for the group (mostly drinks and food) and the man who coordinates the dancers. The people in the group who do not sing are designated to carry the gifts offered by the village people for their performance.
The group sets up a place where they can practice during these 40 days, but they also sing in local gatherings where women are present. The carols have been learned from the elder people from the village. Four days before Christmas each member of the group brings wine, two eggs, two cabbages, a hen, some wood for the fire, a fork, a spoon, a plate and a glass to the rehearsal house.
On Christmas Eve, dressed up properly in traditional clothes, the group starts to “colinda” (carol, which means “wandering”, as in “wandering from house to house”). To “colinda” someone means to visit the person’s house to sing Christmas carols. Singers receive gifts like cakes, meat or drinks as thanks.
After they finish singing, they wish the host a Merry Christmas, collect their gifts (today, especially in cities, money), sometimes serve a cake / drink a glass of wine and move on to the next door.
At the end of the caroling process, they throw a two or three days party before going back to their regular lives, awaiting the next big religious festival, the “Rusalii”.
Below are two traditional carols performed in a small Byzantine-Orthodox church somewhere in central Romania (Southern Transylvania). The first one is specific to that area and not so well-known, the second is sung by the entire assistance. Being in there gives you the goosebumps.