Christmas traditions in Romania

courtesy of animalici.ro
courtesy of animalici.ro

A pig's last scream happens in the month of December, around Christmas time. Men with dirty jackets break in its little pen, grab it from its legs and neck, dragging it out, ground it and kill it with a stab in the jugular. Outside, a big fire is burning. Women with red, icy faces are watching. Little kids are hiding inside, covering their ears. If they pity the pig, the animal will suffer and the adults reserved it a dignified death. The scent of blood lurks over the village, sneaks high into the sky, through the snow flakes and clouds. The pig was sacrificed.

When I was a kid, every family in the village had a pig for Christmas. The few ones that didn't were very, very poor and could not afford to buy and raise a pig. The animal was usually bought in spring, at a very young age, and fed with greens, corn and kitchen waste. In the summer time, every pig was vaccinated and the ones raised for meat would have a vasectomy too.

In late October and early November, the pig would be evaluated and forced feed if too small or too skinny. The size of the animal was a reason of pride for the master of the house. On December 20Th, St. Ignatius Teofor Day (Ignat) the pig was to be sacrificed, cooked, and eaten on Christmas day.

There isn't any clear explanation how come Romanians got to kill a pig in this particular day and proclaim it a christian tradition. There is a mix of pagan rituals and beliefs(including the fertility and abundance ones, imported from Greeks or Romans), indigenous stories (about a man named Ignat who, by mistake, killed his father trying to kill the pig), and christian components (like Sf. Ignatius, an early christian and disciple of St. John the Evangelist). This tradition is very old and had been enriched during centuries. It also had been carried on until few years ago.

In 2007, Romania had to adhere to European Union legislation. One of the laws prohibits cruelty against animals, in other words the pigs need to be given an anesthetic before sacrifice. I cannot see a romanian peasant fallowing EU's rules, and, to be honest, I don't think he's even aware of them. He's mainly concerned about the Christmas dinner as you will see.

The day the pig is slaughtered, the master of the house awakes very early in the morning. He gathers some of his best neighbours and friends at his home. The wives are starting the fire, in the backyard. A large wooden table is set. They bring kitchen utensils, knives, pots. The men kill the animal. They burn it over the fire to remove its hair. Then they portion it and leave to do the same job for another family. Then the women take over. Withe huge pots of hot water, they clean the entire animal. Sometime they collect the blood, to make a special sausage. They clean the intestines, the stomach, the liver and other organs. The preparation takes all day.

There are 4 more days till Christmas and there's many other things to be done. Now, with a very large amount of pork, the family have to preserve the meat to last over the winter. With the arrival of the electric freezer, this job has become an easy task.

Still, there are some families who like to prepare the meat according with the old methods. Some of the pork parts will be smoked, some salted. Parts of the bacon will be melt in big pots over slow heat and transformed in fat, used in cooking. My grandma used to pour the fat in a huge bucket. While still warm and liquid, she'd drop in some roasted pork. The fat will solidify and this way preserve the roasted portion inside. The intestines, stomach and organs are used to make all kind of tasty sausages. From feet and ears they make jellied pork.

homemade sausages and beacon
homemade sausages and beacon
piftie
piftie
sarmale and polenta
sarmale and polenta

The cooking starts on Christmas Eve day. A traditional Christmas dinner includes pork roast, sarmale (cabbage rolls), piftie(jellied pork), at least three kinds of sausages, pork soup, lots of pickles and pickled vegetables (like cabbage, tomatoes, cauliflower, red paper), sweet bread and polenta. They also make a traditional holly bread, named "colaci", which is a raised dough shaped as a cross. This bread will be taken at the church and shared with the entire community.

The women cook and bake until late in the night. They have to have everything ready by 5 am in Christmas Day. The cooks have to trust their cooking skills without testing the food. Nobody will be allowed to eat any meat yet, not even eggs or milk. According with the rules of orthodox church, everybody have fast for 40 days. Not many people are fasting today anymore but some of us try to limit the consumption of meat before Christmas. When I was a kid I was always allowed to taste some of the goodies made for Christmas and if not, I used to sneak in the kitchen and serve myself.

Early morning in Christmas Day people go to church. They have not eaten anything yet. All that yummy food is still at home, sometimes right on the dinner table. But everybody brings samples of their dishes and display them on a huge table set at church. After the liturgy everybody shares the goods.

Later on, women will comment on each other's cooking skills, usually finding something to criticize about the neighbours' food. Only now, when the priest had blessed their meals, people can eat meat. Eating and drinking is the word of the day. Outside, the pig's pen is empty. Clouds are gathering over the empty sky. It may snow and the whiteness would cover the blood.

 

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Comments 32 comments

Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 6 years ago from Los Angeles

Great hub camciob and the pictures make my mouth water. Can’t wait for Christmas and all the joy it stands for.

Marry Christmas to you and family!


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Petra, thank you for coming to my hub. Next time you come to Minnesota, stop by and I'll cook some for you.

Also, I think romanian churches here in US may have them on christmas day.


ralwus 6 years ago

I enjoyed this. It reminds me of when I was only a lad and my family did this same thing like a ritual. Good eating and we'd always have cracklings. I love colaci. I don't think I'd like my meat infested with any anesthetics.


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Ralwus, Thank you for reading my hub. I very appreciate your visit and comments. I think we are lucky to have such memories from our childhood. I hope my child would have something to remember too. Where did you eat colaci?


Askme profile image

Askme 6 years ago

Cameciob, I enjoyed your hub. The food looks tastey and I am hungry.

My niece has gone to Romania several times, staying for months on end working in with a volunteer organization for the Romania orphans. She was writing a live journal about her experiences. She loves the country and the people of Romania so much. She quit her IT job and went back to school to get her Physical Therapist certificate, with plans to return to Romania and work with the kids there helping them to reach their proper developmental stages both physically and mentally.

Great hub.


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Askme, thank you for stopping and reading my hub. Actually a cook some of it for Christmas.

It is very nice of your nice to volunteer to work with orphanages. I know we need lots of help and there lots of things to improve there. I’ll go visiting my family in Bucharest this coming summer…I usually once every 2 years. Maybe one day I could meet her there.


TINA V profile image

TINA V 6 years ago

It's good to know something about the Christmas tradition in Romania. Pigs taste good when you roast it. The food in your photos looks delicious. Nice hub.


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Hi Tina V and nice to meet you.

This is my favorite hub and I am happy when when somebody else likes it and lets me know.

Yes, you are right, roasted pig is very good. Smoked and roasted...yummm.


Jim Bryan profile image

Jim Bryan 6 years ago from Austin, TX

Very neat sounding tradition. I think I'm going to cook some bacon and eggs, I find myself rather hungry all the sudden.


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

LOL Jim Bryan. Eggs and bacon is delicious, my favorite for Sunday mornings. Thanks for stopping and commenting.


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

I read this hub and has to ask is it true? but then I recalled my mother telling the same story when she was growing upp in Transylvania. This is bookmarked and Stumbled Upon! thanks for reviving memories


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Thank you Rebecca for visiting my hub. Yes, as your mother told you, it is true. I know you have roots in Transilvania from your hub and from your blog. Now, you have to go there at Christmas time. And live in a village for few days. The food is unbeliveble.


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 6 years ago from Canada

I shall don't you worry I shall! just one more reason as well.


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Good for you Rebecca. I hope you will write a hub about it.


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Yummy ... mi s-a facut foame lol. Good blog!


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 6 years ago from Toronto, Canada


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Hello again, Mr. Happy. I'm glad you like it. I have to tell you I was hungry myself when I wrote it :). Multumesc de comentarii (thank you for your comments).


Winsome profile image

Winsome 5 years ago from Southern California by way of Texas

Hi Camelia, I really enjoyed the narrative of what sounds like a very happy season in Romania...except for the pig of course. I think the sarmale would be my favorite. That first photo looks like the "running of the pigs" like the bulls in Pamplona. =:)


cameciob profile image

cameciob 5 years ago Author

Hi Winsome, I love that photo too and you are right :).

Sarmale are called cabbage rolls in the US and are sometimes made by romanian or serbian or croatians communities. Sometimes you can find them in turkish restaurants.

Thanks for stopping.


PaperNotes profile image

PaperNotes 5 years ago

Wow, it is interesting to get a glimpse of other nation's traditions during Christmas. Pork is indeed a good food to eat but perhaps if I would witness how it was slaughtered, maybe I'll just settle for some fried tofu!


cameciob profile image

cameciob 5 years ago Author

PaperNotes, you get used over time; and the food taste so good that one may just enjoy the moment. Plus, the culture tells you (from the childhood) why the pigs came into existence: to be a Christmas fiesta. I hope this article did not affect your eating habits in any way. Thanks for stopping and commenting.


rjsadowski profile image

rjsadowski 5 years ago

It is always interesting to read about the food and customs of another country. We are all different, but in many ways we are also all alike.


cameciob profile image

cameciob 4 years ago Author

Hi rjsadowski and thanks for comming to my hub. i'm sure there are many more christamas tradition that are fedding away as we speak. Probably, some 20 years from now, few will do the traditional meal and even fewer will sacrifice a pig for Christmas. things are changing fast.


MissFrost profile image

MissFrost 4 years ago from 50% Island Girl, 25% East Coast Girl, 25% Country Girl

Very well written! Great job. One of my close friend's is from Romania and I love hearing her stories. I will pass this on to her!


ambrking profile image

ambrking 4 years ago from Encino, California

Interesting tradition. Thanks for sharing this. Happy Christmas!


Geoff 4 years ago

My grandmother was raised in a small village in Romania before she came to the United States in the 30s and I grew up going to the monthly dinners her orthodox church here would have to continue the heritage. I have to say there is no better sausage than ones from Romania, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovakia and my great uncle owned a store which he sold them and made them every morning. One question though, is the polenta mentioned just a different version of the cornbread with cheese that I grew up with called mamaliga?


cameciob profile image

cameciob 4 years ago Author

MissFrost, thank you for reading. Do pass on this article and see if she remembers the same things.


cameciob profile image

cameciob 4 years ago Author

Geoff, that is right, polenta = mamaliga. It is very good served with eggs also.

And about carnati or sausage, are you guys still making them? here there is a romanian orthodox xhurch that makes them from time to time.

You have no idea how I miss them.

thanks for stopping and commenting.

Merry Christmas,

camelia


santiago 4 years ago

damn...now I am going to eat some sarmale cu piftie :d your topic made me very hungry :) good job with this topic and happy new year to all


cameciob profile image

cameciob 4 years ago Author

Thank You Santiago, and bon appetite.


Mary Stuart profile image

Mary Stuart 4 years ago from Washington

Yummy! Do I have to wait until Christmas to try these dishes?


cameciob profile image

cameciob 4 years ago Author

Hi Mary, no you don't have to just take a trip in Romania at any time! Thanks for stipping by.

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