Christmas Eve customs
... and (why not?!) superstitions
Christmas Eve in the Romanian tradition represents the day for given alms, meaning the gifts made and brought to other people.
Tradition says that on Christmas Eve people, and here I refer especially to neighbours, should share food for the peace of the dead as well as a sign of wealth of the living ones.
This is done both on Christmas Eve and on the Christmas Day.
In Oltenia the women go to the cemetery where they incense the graves of their dead; when they return home they take out the baked knot-shaped breads and put them on the table. Every bread has a candle or an egg and is given to the neighbours.
In Moldavia alms are given to neighbours and relatives, flat cakes and foods blessed by the priest. In some parts, in Ardeal, on Christmas Eve the poor are given knot-shaped bread with a candle attached to it.
In Bucovina, on Christmas a glass of water and a knot-shaped bread is left on the table because it's thought that the souls of the dead return on this day and taste the bread and drink some water.
In Oltenia the kids make a flag by themselves from a kerchief with a silver coin, some basil and a little incense symbolizing the gifts brought by the mags to Jesus Christ.
In other regions it's a custom for choir boys to go from house to house with an icon on which the birth of Christ is represented. This is done when the village is very big and priest can't go from house to house and sends these boys instead. Because...
In Moldavia nobody can touch the food until the priest walks through the door. The priest sings and then sits on a bench after blessing the whole meal. He also tastes each type of food. The man of the house opens a bottle of wine and offers the priest a drink. The priest accepts and after the feast the remaining food and drink are given to the neighbours.
The girls put a needle under the carpet so the priest passes over it. Then the girl takes the needle, puts it in her hair so at night she may dream of her future husband. Other girls put corn on the priest's bed so they will get married.
Towards Christmas Eve if the workers of the fields dream of their corn, the corn is said to turn out the way they dream of it.
Peasants wake up before the sunrise and touch the items from their yard: wagon, plough, scythe and so on in order for these items to give extra productiveness. The women do the same thing: thread the needle, tie a few strings and some more things.
In the vessel used by the family for washing up people put some nuts so that they will be healthy all year round.
If a stranger walks through the gate, the host must be the one who closes the gate so that the stranger won't lose his luck or the host's girls won't get married.
The horns are cleaned and the soot is sprinkled over the vineyard so that the vine will give a lot of grapes.
The housewife cooks almost all types of foods for the Christmas meal. Plums are good because they are believed to sweeten the man and help him manage his anger.
The house is cleaned in the evening but the garbage isn't taken out so that the luck won't leave the house and the cattle won't get ill. Other housewives clean the house towards the eastern wall and the icons to bring match makers to the house.
At night no one is allowed to stay in the barn, because it's said that during that night the cattle speak among themselves about Christ who was born amongst them and was kept warm by their breath. Cattle are said to discuss other things, that like the location of buried treasure, but man isn't supposed to listen because bad things can happen to him.
On Christmas Eve, the women prepare small breads and a big, round, fast bread enough for Saturday and Sunday, days when the parents set the last days when is forbidden to eat something else but fish. The first cut slice from the prepared bread is offered to the poorest person from the community.
This slice or small bread is the symbol of a future wealthy life for that person so that he/she will be able to do the same for others next year- removes the poverty, scarcity and other bad things.
After giving that slice (bread) to the needy person, the rest is consumed by the family members with the belief that the luck and wealth will not spread around the world and deprive them from their welfare. The crumbs are going to be collected and given to the fowls or the birds that use to come to the household.
Another custom is to gather the salt remains from the sheepfold and the cattle shelter and put them in new vessels. These are going to be put under the Christmas tree to bring welfare to the family. Moreover, this is said to help the family discover a spring in their yard.
All these activities with the salt remains are actually performed by men or the "head" of the house, as the women are not allowed to touch them. This prudence action prevents them from pining their fingers when they make the embroideries for the family. In the houses where there are girls ready for marriage, a new basket is put in which the members set varied food: fish, bread and apples, which will be given as alms at the end of the week- the last gift for the dead members of that family.
In Moldova people arrange a vessel with some of all the kinds of food, which is going to be placed under the window; they are not allowed to taste the food as the sprite comes in the night and can be seen through the window.
In Bucovina and Moldavia, people keep some of the knot-shaped bread made for Christmas until the spring, when they put them between cattle's horns when they begin their work. This bread must be perfectly round, like the Sun or the Moon.
In the region of Cernauti there is the custom to set some dried grass and different kinds of seeds under the table cover and then given to cattle so that nobody can waste them.
In some villages, on Christmas Eve, a scythe is placed under the table cover and an axe under the people feet in the belief these will bring them health and welfare. Some of them even put a vessel filled with water under the table so that their animals (especially the cattle) will be strong and healthy all the year round. The villagers also believe that, on the night before Christmas, animals talk among them different things which people forbidden to know - this will cause them harm.
In some places, people take back all the things during that have been lent during the year, and in others the parents put some money in their children's pockets to have a wealthy year.
Villagers in some places from Transylvania and Oltenia believe that the souls of the dead come to share the Christmas goods with the living, reason for which they have a plate with food and a glass of water (or wine) on the table.
Previous feast day: Ignat Day
Next feast day: Christmas Day
Read more about a Christmas Eve at my grandparents home
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