Christmas in Romania
Or traditions in Carpathian country
In Romania, Christmas is known as Craciun
and Santa Claus is called Mos Craciun
Christmas in Romania has retained all its religious and folk traditions. Red, black and white are the colors associated with the traditional Romanian folk costume. Black represents the winter night, which falls very early in December, red is for the finery of the children who go caroling through the streets on Christmas eve, and white is for the snow that blankets the country, sparkling under the stars for as far as the eye can see.
The Christmas tree is decorated on Christmas Eve about 10 o'clock with walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, candies, apples and chocolates wrapped in colored paper.
Then the children set out through their neighborhood or village, caroling from house to house. As they go from door to door, the "colindatori" are given traditional treats in return: "covrigi" (large dry pretzels), doughnuts, candies, apples and money.
After Midnight Mass, children clean and polish their best pair of boots and place them at the front door for Santa Claus to find. It's there that he'll leave presents for the youngest children who have already gone to bed.
Christmas is also the time for pork butchering on every Romanian farm. Slaughtered on St. Ignatius' day, a few days before Christmas, the pig is meticulously transformed into smoked ham, sausages and charcuterie products.
The traditional Christmas meal unfolds as follows:
"Racituri" or "piftie," jellied headcheese, consisting of the pig's feet, ears and head in aspic, accompanied by a grated horseradish and beet salad marinated in vinegar, water and sugar.
Fresh pork sausages, either grilled or fried, garnished with "muraturi" (cucumber pickles), as well as hot peppers and green tomato pickles.
Various traditional charcuterie products are served: "toba," pork intestine stuffed with meat jelly, liver and rind; "caltabos," a kind of blood sausage; "babic" and "ghiudem," varieties of sausage, very dry and highly spiced, made from goat, mutton or beef.
Beef salad - steamed or boiled vegetables: carrots, celery, potatoes, peas and pickled vegetables (cucumbers, tomato peppers and green tomatoes), all finely chopped and combined with olives and strips of cooked beef and bound with mayonnaise.
"Ciorba de perisoare" - a slightly sour vegetable soup made with fermented bran and pork meatballs.
"Sarmale" - Romanians' best-loved traditional dish - sour cabbage leaves stuffed with ground pork and served with polenta.
Roast pork - garnished with pickled vegetables or mixed salads.
The traditional Christmas dessert is called "cozonac." This rich fruit bread requires a long preparation time that begins early on the morning of Christmas Eve. Usually while the men are outdoors butchering the pig, the women stay in the kitchen to make the cozonac.
Since it takes so long to make, cozonac is made in huge quantities. It has to feed the entire family throughout the week of Christmas. "For 5 kg of flour, 30 eggs are used and 3 kg of white sugar. Kneading the dough lasts at least two hours."
The filling is made up of ground walnuts, egg yolks, raisins, vanilla, rum and no less than 2 kg of sugar! In well-to-do homes, cozonac replaces bread at every meal, served with both savory and sweet dishes. This may seem a very rich diet… but keep in mind that the holidays have been preceded by one to five weeks of fasting. What's more, the temperature in Romania at Christmas can easily dip to -15° C, so the extra calories are required!
When it comes to sweets, cheesecake is the dessert traditionally associated with religious holidays in Romania. Every region has its own version.
In some regions "grau fiert" is served: sweetened boiled wheat garnished with nuts and various flavorings.
Tuica or palinca - very strong eau-de-vie, usually made from plums Wines - mostly reds, depending on the region
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