Local Traditions

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Transylvania or Ardeal is the region situated in central Romania, bordered by the Carpathian Mountains. It covers the territories of ten counties: Hunedoara, Sibiu, Alba, Cluj, Sălaj, Bistriţa-Năsăud, Mureş, Harghita, Covasna and Braşov. Throughout time, this land was a part of the Roman Empire, of the Kingdom of Hungary and of the Austrian Empire. After the Great Union of 1918, Transylvania became a territory of independent Romania. Currently, the center of the country is inhabited by Romanians, Hungarians and Saxons, each community preserving its culture and characteristic customs. The identity and spirituality of Transylvania are still influenced by the traditions of the minorities living in this region, so that you will discover various customs, of unique significance, full of charm and mystery. The rural spectacle, the costumes and the songs take you to a delightful world that reminds of the simplicity and beauty of the Romanian village.

Traditions Romania

Winter Holidays. Christmas and New Year’s in Transylvania

In Transylvania, winter holidays start on December 6th, on St. Nicholas Day, when good, obedient children receive gifts in their boots and girls knead the dough for pies. At night, the young men in the village meet and party until dawn. Once, on Saint Lucia Day, on December 13th, the men used to perform a ritual meant to protect the household from the evil: they went around the house carrying a tray with embers in which a few branches were placed.

In Transylvanian villages, Christmas preparations start during the fasting period; until then, men are sure to finish their work in the field and gather supplies for the holidays. Women meet at evening sittings, where they spin and sow, preparing festive garments and fabrics used for decorating the house. Young women get advice, listen to moral stories and discover events from the rural life. The meetings are opportunities to pass on proverbs, folk songs, customs and crafts to the new generation.

Traditions Transylvania

Transylvanians preserve a legend concerning this holiday, according to which Jesus was born in the yard of very rich and mean Jew, called Christmas. On the night of the birth, Christmas' wife gave shelter to Virgin Mary in the stable. It is said that, enraged by what had happened without his knowledge, Christmas cut his wife's hands. Touched, the Virgin glued them back and turned them into gold. After seeing the miracle, the man apologized in his knees; therefore the holiday of the Savior's birth bears his name.

The most important Christmas custom is that of caroling. The first harbingers of the holiday are the children who start caroling from door to door, receiving nuts, apples, bagels and money in exchange for their wishes.Young single boys go caroling with "the Star" (Steaua), "the Goat" (Ţurca) and "the Viflaim". Grown men can also participate in the goat dance; here, a man dressed as a goat is accompanied by a musician and a dumb character, who always runs a rig. Scouring the village, the latter breaks things in people’s households or dirties girls with ash and is considered devilish; in days of old, if he happened to die before the Epiphany, he was buried outside the cemetery, without a religious service. The dumb man in the ritual casts aside his negative aura and rejoins the community of believers only after he has confessed his sins.

The youngsters who act in the Viflaim play carry with them a small wooden church, inside which they put candles and figurines, reenacting the nativity scene. To avoid bad luck,the hosts reward the carolers with money. Groups of lads are expected in the houses with unmarried girls. In theTransylvanian Plain and in Năsăud, boys gather in a house to rehearse the carols. Each caroler must bring oat or barley; the grains are left to germinate are the resulting flour is fermented in order to obtain beer. In Sibiu, the "beer band" is replaced by the "junior barrels", an occasion for the boys of the village to gather wine in a barrel for the holidays.

Traditions Transylvania

Traditions Transylvania

On the first day of Christmas, Christians go to church, then gather around the table, and in the evening they organize rural festivities. Dressed in traditional costumes, the boys invite the girls to dance. Winter traditions are a genuine spectacle of the rural world, bringing songs, masks, dances, ritual gestures, wishes of health, wealth and happiness in a complex ceremony. A custom meant to symbolize the rebirth of nature is the Meteleu, which takes place on December 28th. On this day, villagers make straw dolls which they burn in the center of the village, thus casting away evil spirits.

Around New Year's, there is the superstition that young people can find out their fate. For instance, on St. Basil's (January 1st), in Hunedoara, they perform the “sânvăsâi", a custom observed by the single girls. On a table, they hide several objects under some plates - a mirror, scissors, a comb, a knife, bread, basil branches, etc. The girls each choose a plate and interpret the qualities or defects of the predestined man depending on what they find under it.

On New Year's Eve, children go caroling "the Little Plough"(Pluguşorul) wishing a fruitful and lucky year to their hosts. Apart from the wishes, the Little Plough is usually spectacular, full of life and color, a custom attended by the entire rural community. In some villages, they still use a real plough, which will draw and the first furrow. Four oxen are harnessed to the plough and driven by a large suite of people. However, in most areas, the lyrics of this carol which are full of symbols have become more important than the real plough, which they gave up. Christmas and New Year are celebrated with pomp, joy and the hope of a prosperous year that brings health, happiness and rich fruit.

Traditions Transylvania

Traditions Transylvania

Easter Traditions in Transylvania

Easter is celebrated with traditions which are specific to the communities living in Transylvania. Believers strictly observe the Lent and try to carry out the household activities: the land is plowed and sown, houses are whitewashed and cleaned, new clothes are prepared. Before starting the fasting, Transylvanian Saxons throw one last party, called Fărşang, in order to ward off evil spirits and to attract good fortune. On Holy Thursday or on Good Friday, women paint the eggs and prepare a sweet cream cheese cake eaten at Easter.

On Saturdays, in some regions of Transylvania, the boys decorate fir trees and then leave them in the yards of single girls. The young women pryingly watch the boys and reward them the second day of Easter, when they come spraying. On Easter night, Christian believers attend the sermon and take home the holy light. A short play showing the women going to Jesus' tomb is enacted at church. In the morning, all family members wash their face with fresh water from a bowl in which they had put a red egg, a silver coin and a branch of basil. On the first day of Easter, relatives gather around the table, tapping eggs and enjoying delicious lamb dishes.There is the superstition that you will be lucky if the first person to enter your house is a man. They also say that the hay of the person who sleeps on this day will go bad.

The sprinkling or spraying custom is found especially in Transylvanian Saxon and Hungarian communities, with roots in the Middle Ages. It recalls the belief that the Jews sprinkled those who brought the news of the Resurrection. On the second day of Easter, boys go to girls' homes saying the following: "I was in a green wood, I saw a blue viola flower waiting to fade. Allow me to sprinkle it?" or "I’ve heard you have a beautiful flower, I came to sprinkle it, for it not to fade". Boys spray girls with perfume as a symbol of wealth, beauty and fertility. In Murex County, the last day of Easter is for sprinkling the lads; they can avoid the buckets filled with water only if it is very cold outside. The Easter holiday brings people closer to God, giving them comfort and peace of mind.

Traditions Transylvania

Traditions Transylvania

Wedding Traditions in Transylvania

In Transylvania, the wedding is a ritual full of traditions that are intended to mark the formation of the new family and its integration in the community. First of all, the young man has to woo the girl, asking for her parents' consent to marry. The boy is usually accompanied by family and friends. In the past, if he wasn't sure that the girl liked him back, he would send suitors to her house, known for their power of persuasion. Wooing also involved organizing a meal, where the two young people had to eat from the same plate. The engagement and wedding dates are established on this day, and parents agree on the dowry and discuss the wedding party. In the Romanian villages, dowry is an extremely important element leading to marriage, because it reflects the social status of the two families, and implicitly that of the young couple waiting to start its destiny. It was harder for poor girls to find a partner and they often remained single. The wealthy ones owned animals, land, money and the famous dowry chest, which contained clothes, towels, rugs and all kinds of fabrics necessary in a household. Before the wedding, the bride's brothers and several young men from the village moved the dowry chest to the couple's house.

Wedding Transylvania

The village community receives news of the wedding a month before the event or on the first Sunday after the engagement. The future spouses, the village magistrate and the friends of the couple go in the village and call people to the wedding. The preparations for the party start with the sewing and the decorating of the flag, a stick decorated with colored ribbons, tassels and kerchiefs. On the wedding day, the flag bearer leads the groom's suite. A custom specific to Transylvania is that of the wedding tree, prepared by the groom's relatives the night before the wedding. The decorated tree is carried by a girl and a boy who sprinkle water and wheat on the wedding guests as a symbol of prosperity.

The primping of the bride takes place on the wedding day, in the presence of the godmother, of the relatives and friends, who watch the girl being dressed and combed. The custom is accompanied by songs that mark the separation of the young woman from the family. Meanwhile, the groom and the godfather go to the bride's house, from where the wedding suite heads for the church. The wedding party starts with the dance of the bride and continues with music and folk dances in which all the guests participate. Toward that end, a woman brings in a singed hen, decorated with flowers that the godfather must buy. Finally they shout the gift (calling out loud the amount of money that every guest gives to the newlyweds): the village magistrate goes to the tables and collects the gifts given by the guests to the bride and groom.  In Transylvania, the wedding is more than the officiation of a marriage; it is a festive celebration of the formation of a new family, an important event for the entire community.

Wedding Transylvania

Wedding Transylvania

Throughout the Year Traditions in Transylvania

Bear Day is celebrated in the villages of Transylvania 40 days after Christmas, on February 2nd. On this day, people try to predict the weather. They say that if the bear leaves its den and is frightened of its shadow, it will remain in the shelter for another six weeks, which means that winter will be longer. But if it stays outside, this is a sign that spring is coming.

The Adorned Ox is a tradition observed near the Pentecost, to protect crops from storms and hail. An ox adorned with flowers, ribbons and bells is walked on the streets of the village accompanied by masked men. The elders say the animal is thus endowed with magical forces designed to defend their households.

Customs Transylvania

The Harvest Mace is a folk custom specific to Cârţa village (Sibiu County). One day in July, the villagers dress in festive attire and go to the field, where they teach the young how to cut the wheat ears and how to bind sheaves. The sheaves are then placed one on top of the other in the form of a mace and carried around the village, where women sprinklefresh water on them, as a sign of freshness and prosperity.


In Transylvania you will find a mixture of traditions meant to attract good luck, health, happiness and a rich harvest. Community life revolves around these rituals inherited from the ancestors and passed on to the younger generations. In Transylvanian villages, the religious holidays and the important moments in the life of the individual are occasions for genuine spectacles that animate the alleyways, bringing charm and color to the rural universe.

[An article written by Andreea Bertea]