Local Traditions

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The historical region of Bukovina occupies a portion of the north-eastern part of the country, including the cities of VatraDornei, CâmpulungMoldovenesc, GuraHumorului, Suceava, Rădăuţi, Siret and Vicovu de Sus in Suceava County, as well as settlements on the territory of Ukraine. Until the second half of the eighteenth century, Moldova and Bukovina formed a single principality. Part of the Habsburg Empire until 1918, when it was annexed to Romania, Bukovina was later occupied by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Currently, the region is divided between the two countries, having been, over time, a place where Romanians, Ukrainians, Russian-Lipovans, Jews and Poles coexisted. Although influenced by the ethnic groups living here, the area remained a symbol of the Romanian spirit, a place where history, ancient traditions and crafts have been sacredly preserved. Here, life continues to be shaped according to the customs of the ancestors, revealing an enchanting universe in which you discover the authentic archaic atmosphere.

Traditions Romania

Traditions Romania

Winter Traditions. Christmas and New Year’s in Bukovina

In the land of Bukovina, Christmas is the most anticipated holiday of the year, being celebrated with a series of spectacular rituals meant to bring prosperity, health and vitality. Starting with Saint Nicholas' Day, when obedient children are rewarded with gifts and the naughty ones receive twigs, householders start Christmas preparations: they clean the houses and courtyards, they supply the kitchens with whatever is necessary, men sacrifice pigs and young people organize groups and choose the caroling repertoire.

Traditions Bukovina

The caroling groups are organized starting with the Advent, when the members, the leader and the props are chosen. The suite ofcarolers is an emblem and a pride of the village, being made up of young men who have an imposing posture, impeccable behavior and a pleasant voice. On Christmas Eve, children and lads roam the streets and stop at every house to spread good wishes. In Bukovina, the carols have the role of casting away evil spirits and of purifying souls, so it is said that on this day you must have an open door. During the day, the little ones are the first to proclaim the birth of Jesus, receiving colacs, apples and walnuts in exchange. At nightfall, the voices of the lads are heard; dressed in traditional costumes and wearing hats decorated with colored ribbons, they especially drop by unmarried girls' homes. In the case of a band accompanied by musicians, the young woman is invited to dance by the leader of the group or by the young man who fancies her.

Traditions Bukovina

Traditions Bukovina

On Christmas Eve, in the early hours of the morning, the householder brings home kindling and gives them to family members, wishing them health and prosperity. Women throw grain seeds to the east to make the crops rich and put some dough at the roots of the trees to make them fruitful. Also, the garbage in the house and the soot in the stoves are scattered in the garden to fertilize the soil. For the Christmas Eve dinner, 12 courses of fasting food are prepared, including boiled wheat, beans, boletus borsch, mushrooms with garlic, dried fruit. In the middle of the table there is a colac braided in the shape of an 8, which is not eaten, but kept for the agricultural practices in spring. After the priest blesses the house and the food, the family gather around the table. The leftovers are put on a plate which is left at the edge of the window and are ritually offered to the dead.

Traditions Bukovina

After observing the Christmas customs, the villagers turn their attention to New Year's rituals, closely related to the life-death-rebirth cycle. The dances, costumes and masks symbolize the separation from the old year and the welcoming of a new beginning. The "Pluguşor" is one of the most common traditions observed on the last day of the year. Boys make a miniature plough decorated with tassels and bells, and harness a so-called bull to it, which is in fact a bucket tied at the mouth with cowhide leather. Once they've arrived in the households, the children shout their wishes, shake the plough and smack their whips. The spoken lyrics of the Pluguşorrefer to the works of the field and invoke the fertile spring days.

New Year's practices illustrate a true traditional theater with fabulous characters that can bring well-being and bad luck alike. They remind that keeping and observing customs ensures prosperity, strength and regeneration. The bear is a mythical character venerated in Bukovina for its strength, courage and skill, and the people even consider it has the ability to control the seasons. Noisy and full of significance, the bear's dance is accompanied by a group of carolers, drummers and masked men. The disguised man spins round, sometimes looking fierce, other times more gentle, he drops to the ground, announcing the end of the year, then rises to announce the next one.

Traditions Bukovina

The characteristic in Bukovina is that it brings all the characters together in a suite called Malanca. Led by the journeyman, the characters stage specific games, among them the Goat, the Deer, the Horse, the Ugly and the Beautiful. Unmarried girls prepare colacs and come to greet carolers, dressing in festive clothes to impress the lads.

The last day of the year's renewal cycle is the Epiphany (January 6th), when the houses, the fountains, the animals and the orchards are sanctified in order to be protected from evil spirits. After the sermon, the young people make a fire at the fringe of the village, and when it goes out, they jump over the embers to get rid of illnesses. Upon returning home, the villagers yell "Chiraleisa!" all together, a word with magical connotations.

In Bukovina, winter traditions give birth to a rich show, with ample choreographies, fantastic characters, elaborate costumes and folk superstitions. Holidays have a special charm, bringing joy and the hope of a flourishing new year.

Easter Traditions in Bukovina

Easter customs are primarily devoted to the purification of the soul and the revival of nature, being less pompous and more focused on spiritual values. In the Great Week, believers fast and maintain a solemn attitude, remembering the Savior's passions. There is the belief that on Holy Thursday, the souls of the deceased descend on earth and remain around their homes until Easter. On this day they also say you shouldn't do laundry, and that the one who oversleeps will be lazy all year round. The egg shells left from battering the dough of the sweet cake are thrown into the water, thus announcing the resurrection to the dead as well. If the housewives prepare the Easter cake - pasca, the dough cross used to decorate the cake is put aside and later mixed with the food for the animals on St. George's. On Good Friday they don't light a fire, and if it rains, it is said that the year will be rich.

Traditions Bukovina

The most important tradition during this period is dyeing and decorating eggs. On Holy Thursday and Saturday, women paint the eggs and decorate them according to a very old craft, specific to this area. They use an instrument called a “chişiţă”, made of a thin metal pipe, with very small diameter; a pig hair is pulled through it and used to apply melted wax on the eggs. The pattern and the ornamental motifs are drawn at this stage. The most common motifs are the cross, the life line, the clover, the oak leaf, the wheat spike, the bee, the rooster comb, the sun or the star. They symbolize faith in God, health, good fortune, prosperity and happiness. When the wax cools, the eggs are sunk into baths of color obtained from plants. Women use walnut leaves, violas, dogberries, alder or onion peel. The colors are applied successively, and the parts already painted are covered with wax so that the shades don't intertwine. Finally, all the wax is removed from the egg and the original model remains beautifully colored. Of course, there are also houses where brush painting or simple painting is practiced, but the encaustic technique is remarkable - an occupation brought to the rank of art.

Traditions Bukovina

On the night of the Resurrection, believers go to the sermon and take home the holy light; with the lit candle, the men circle the household to protect it from evil. In Bukovina, the girls climb to the bell tower of the church and wash the clapper with fresh water. On Sunday morning, they wash their face with this water in order to be beautiful all year. The lads come to woo the girls in front of the house, and the chosen onesreceives a red egg. On the first day of Easter, everyone sounds the “toaca”( asemantron) to spread the news of the Resurrection. It is said that whoever dies in the Enlightened Week goes straight to heaven, without a judgment. Easter celebrations signify a return to life, purity and tranquility, and the rituals observed restore man's connection to nature and divinity.

Wedding Traditions in Bukovina

Marriage is one of the most important events in human life, and in Bukovina it is celebrated with customs that increase its festive character. In the villages of Bukovina, the whole community participates in the wedding, so the formation of the new family becomes a collective celebration. First of all, the boy needs to woo the girl; together with his parents, he goes to the young woman's house to ask for her hand in marriage. If the girl's family agrees, they establish the dowry on the same day, together with the date of the wedding, the best men (called vătăşei) and the bridesmaids (druste). The news of the wedding is announced three weeks before by the priest in church; thus, they can call out in advance the reasons that would impede the union of the two. On the day preceding the event, the best men and bridesmaids walk in the village and call people to the wedding.

Wedding Bukovina

The bride and groom prepare for the wedding in the parental house, being helped by the godparents and close friends. Accompanied by the suite, the boy goes to the girl's house where she has hidden and he must find her; the bridesmaids (druste) interfere with this process and send other women dressed as brides in the groom's direction. After this moment, the process of asking for forgiveness takes place: the young people sit facing the east and ask their parents to forgive them for their mistakes and to give them the blessing for a harmonious life together.

Wedding Bukovina

Wedding Bukovina

At church, the wedding guests receive sweets as a sign of abundance, and after the ceremony everyone dances in a round dance. Then they head for the party, where the mother of the groom greets them by sprinkling holy water on them. The celebration begins with a long dance, called the peasants' dance, where all the guests participate, and continues with other traditional, very energetic and cheerful games. Towards the end of the wedding, after the bouquet is thrown, the bride changes her dress and gives it to a girl who is going to marry. She also has to offer her in-laws a set of new clothes. At the end, a toast is held: each wedding guest announces the amount of money he or she is giving to the new family out loud. In Bukovina, they preserve customs that mark the key moments of the wedding, and the dances, music and traditional dishes are ever-present.

Wedding Bukovina

Throughout the Year Traditions in Bukovina

Dragobete is the representative of love, the Romanian counterpart of St. Valentine. Also called "The Birds' Fiancé" or "The Impetuous", Dragobete is celebrated on January 24th and announces the beginning of spring. On this day, girls run around the village chased by boys; the briskest lads can ask the girl they love for a kiss, thus sanctifying their relationship. From here stems the saying "Dragobete kisses the girls", well known in the village world. It is said that whoever takes part in the feast will be healthy and that whoever hears the hoopoe singing will be diligent all the year. Also, one mustn't work in the field or in the house because Dragobetewatches people like a hawk and punishes them if they do not honor him.

Customs Bukovina

Palm Sunday

 A week before Easter, on Palm Sunday, people carry willow branches to church to be sanctified. Then they put them above their doors, windows and icons as a sign that they are ready to greet Christ. There is the superstition that the branches, called catkins make trees grow rich and keep people safe from evil spirits.

Saint Andrew.

According to the legends, on the night of St. Andrew’s, the souls of the dead can return to earth as poltergeists. In order to defend themselves, the villagers anoint their door and window frames with garlic. Women take the ash out from the stove so bad spirits won't find shelter at heat. Those who want to know how fruitful the crops will be the following year put a few grains of wheat in a pot; depending on how often the wheat springs, people can tell how rich the fields will be.


Bukovina is the cradle of authentic traditions, of crafts made painstakingly with dedication, of customs full of meaning. Traditions in the rural universe illustrate a part of the Romanians' life and identity, offering a special charm to the holidays throughout the year.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]