Local Traditions

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Muntenia or Greater Wallachia is the territory located in southern Romania, the eastern region of the old Wallachia. As the name says, it occupies the area below the mountain, being limited by the Carpathian chain, the Danube and the Olt River. It comprises Argeş, Dâmboviţa, Prahova, Buzău, Brăila, Ialomiţa, Călăraşi, Ilfov, Giurgiu, Teleorman and Bucharest counties. In the Antiquity, Muntenia was inhabited by the Getae, then it became a part of Burebista's Dacian kingdom. Over time, the waves of migratory peoples have led to the establishment of a relatively small population in this area. It was not until the 14th century, that the foundations of Wallachia were laid and groups of Romanians from the south of the Danube, Bulgarians and Greeks started to come. The weak influence of the ethnic groups and their lack of effort to impose their own values and customs have led to a lesser preservation of traditions in Muntenia. However, if you visit the villages, you will still be able to see some of the traditions that have survived the passing of time.

Traditions Romania

Traditions Romania

Winter Traditions. Christmas and New Year in Muntenia

In Muntenia, the atmosphere of the winter holidays makes itself present starting with St. Nicholas Day (December 6th), when children anxiously wait for presents in their boots. Until Christmas Eve, householders are busy sacrificing the pig, women clean the house and the yard, while the little ones learn carols and decorate the fir tree. The alleyways of the villages are immersed in appetizing smells and joyous songs announcing the birth of Jesus can be heard. During this period, the Wallachians don't even forget those who are no longer among them; in Argeş County they still keep the custom of the carols (colindeţ): on Christmas Eve, the villagers give one another bagels, wine and boiled brandy, mentioning the names of the dead.

Close to Christmas time, various caroler groups form and they go to herald the holiday and to wish health, wealth and good luck to the hosts they visit. Typical of sub-Carpathian Muntenia is the band of girls who especially carol lads; once, only unmarried men observed this custom. Mixed groups are nowadays more common or those formed by family members who visit mostly relatives, friends and neighbors. A ritual full of color and originality, caroling has the role of casting away evil spirits, bringing prosperity instead.

Traditions Muntenia

Traditions Muntenia

The first day of Christmas is spent with the family, around the tree and the table full of goodies. Before tasting the dishes, the housewives prepare the water of luck, an infusion of plants (geranium, mint, lavender) mixed with Holy Water, with which they sprinkle the house. The custom is repeated for 7 days if the family has been highly tried before Christmas. In the villages of Argeş, men also throw an armful of straws into the fire, saying a few words meant to attract wealth: "As many straws, as many lambs, as many pigs, as many oxen, as many sheep, as many cows, as many calves (may I have)". It is said that on this day one mustn't lend anything from the house, otherwise they will drive away good luck. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is the symbol of life, goodness and hope, the time when people turn their attention to spiritual values, but also to the community.

On New Year's Eve, the Wallachians keep a very old tradition, also known throughout the country: the Goat ("Capra"). In this area, the goat is called "brezaia" and has a meaning that is lost in the mist of time. The villagers say the highly expressive folkloric masks are the embodiment of the souls of the dead who have returned to earth; In them are gathered the fears, the archetypes and the ties to the spirit world, while their play represents the banishment of the old year and regeneration. The very colorful and cheerful show combines dancing, playing, comic dialogues, songs and wishes, revealing some ironies and allusions kept unspoken throughout the year. Young people reveal the villagers' mistakes and bring out the most sinful of them. Some feel embarrassed, others laugh at the targeted, glad that they have escaped criticism. During this time, the goat makes strident sounds that announce death and rebirth, a cycle closely related to agrarian practices. The New Year is celebrated with good thoughts, joy and the hope that it will bring health, fortune and prosperity.

Traditions Muntenia

Traditions Muntenia

Easter Traditions in Muntenia

Easter is primarily a spiritual holiday, a moment that reminds of divine love and of the miracle of resurrection. The customs preserved during this period are fewer, as spiritual values and their significance for Christians are more important. On the Passion Week, housewives dye eggs red and prepare traditional dishes to serve their guests. Ever-present on the table and in the Easter basket is "pasca", or the Easter cake/bread (with cheese and raisins), a food that alludes to the body of Christ. In Muntenia, pasca is often baked somewhat indented, in the shape of a sun that gives vitality to humans and nature.

Traditions Muntenia

At the evening service on Great Thursday, girls and boys come to church bringing a string; after each gospel read, they make a knot and a wish. The twelve knot string is then placed under the pillow on the night of Thursday to Friday for the young to dream of their predestined half. Also, if one of the wishes comes true, the corresponding knot unties. It was customary for unmarried girls to hide some bane wort under the threshold of the church; if the priest stepped over it, they would have good luck in love all year.

On the evening of the Resurrection, Christians of all ages go to the service, trying to forget about their griefs and regain their peace of mind. It is said that the girls must keep the candle received at church and light it for a few moments during the happy events of their lives; by observing the tradition, they will be well seen by the others and successful. Churchgoers who don't attend the sermon perform a ritual meant to purify them on the first day of Easter: they wash their face with fresh water from a bowl, in which they had put a red egg, a white egg and a silver coin. This tradition is considered to bring abundance, health and energy. Only after that the family sits at the table, enjoying the Easter meal, the gifts and the delicious dishes. Easter customs in Muntenia have lost their meaning or were forgotten over time, making place for a peaceful and harmonious celebration.

Traditions Muntenia

Wedding Traditions in Muntenia

The wedding customs in Muntenia are especially seen in the rural area, where the elders of the village teach the young people the order of such an event. If observed, these customs bring good fortune and prosperous life to the couple, marking the foundation of the new family in a festive way.

On the morning of the wedding, it is customary for the groom and a few of his close friends to adorn two fir trees with fruit, colacs, bells, ribbons and colored paper; one of them is tied to the wedding godparents' door and the other is taken to the bride's house. After the wedding, the latter is planted in the yard of the newlyweds to attract wealth and health.

The bride and groom do not meet before the religious service; each of them goes to their parents' house and prepares for the wedding. The young girl is beautified and prepared by her mother, the godmother and the bridesmaids; they put on her veil and perfume her, making sure that she is attractive to her husband. During this time, the best man shaves the bridegroom, a gesture that symbolizes the initiation of the man into family life.

Another specific tradition is the tearing of the cake, a big colac, beautifully ornamented, which the godmother tears over the bride's head. It is said to be a sign of wealth and all the wedding guests must eat from it. Then they dance the bride's round dance (also called 'nuneasca'), an occasion for the mother's bride to offers gifts to the godfathers and to the in-laws, as a sign of the joy occasioned by her daughter's marriage. There is also the custom that the bride and a young boy wet the wedding suite. From the young woman's house, the suite stops at the third fountain towards the east; from here, the boy draws water with a jug, and the bride sprinkles water on the wedding guests with the help of a bunch of basil and a wet towel. Repeated three times, this tradition is meant to bring good luck in marriage for young people.

Wedding Muntenia

After the religious ceremony, where the couple receives the priest’s blessing, the wedding guests start the party. Music, folk dances and traditional food are ever-present, suggesting the family's entry into the community and sharing the same values. A moment that always constitutes a show is the play of the hen: a woman dances in front of the godfather, carrying a fried and decorated hen on a tray. The godfather has to negotiate its price or try to steal it. Whatever the result, the hen is then shared with all the participants in the event. Towards the end of the party, they observe a custom that reminds the bride she has become a married woman. The godmother removes her veil, giving it to the bridesmaid who caught the bouquet, and replaces it with a kerchief.

Even if they are less numerous, the traditions in Muntenia embellish the wedding and create a holiday atmosphere. They highlight the role of the man and the woman and the principles that the new family must adopt.

Throughout the Year Traditions in Muntenia

Dragobete is the Romanian holiday of love, announcing the arrival of spring and a fruitful year. In Muntenia, the girls gather the water from the wild strawberry leaves and use it to preserve their beauty. Young people spend time outdoors around the campfire, enjoying the sun and the first flowers. It is said that whoever does not celebrate this day will be alone all year.

Customs Muntenia

The Pentecost (or the Descent of the Holy Spirit) is celebrated on Sunday, 50 days after Easter. In the mountain villages, especially inArgeş and Muscel, young people perform a ritual of Dacian origins. Giving one another dishes full of bread and koliva,the boys and the girls bond with their own. In the past, this custom took place in the church, where the priest used to read prayers to strengthen the bonds between the young.

Customs Muntenia

The Philippians (Filipii) are rural holidays related to wolves and the popular superstitions about them. They are held each season, on different dates depending on the region: The Summer Philippians (June 29th), Philip the Lame (October 21st), the Autumn Philippians (November 14th-30th), the Winter Philippians (end of January), the Romanian Pastoral Festival of Wolves - Nedeie (January 16th). Those who observe the Philippians will be protected from the damage caused by wolves and predators. On these days, women do not remove ash from the house, considering that she-wolves feed on brand and become more fertile. Also, next to the basket they hang a sickle or an axe to keep dangerous animals away from the house.

Customs Muntenia

The Wallachian rural universe has a special charm, hidden in the scenic landscapes and in the warm souls of the villagers. The holidays spent in this area will reveal the symbols of the traditions and the beauty of life lived according to the old customs.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]