Traditions and Holidays

Winter Holidays

The days around Christmas and New Year exude a festive and generous mood. Christmas is celebrated in Maramures for twelve days (December 25th - January 7th). It is a time of happiness and optimism heard clearly in the rare beauty of the local carols.

The Carols: The variety of the carols is very broad. There are specific carols sung by children, those sung by only girls or only boys, those sung by men and women and those sung by the very old. Many of the carols carry religious inspiration, while some are still sung about the times before Christianity. This glimpse back to the ancient past can be heard in such ancient as carols "How Beautiful Sings a Stag in the Forest."

Vifliam: Vifliam literally means Bethlehem in Romanian. It is a religious reenactment performed during the days of Christmas. Twenty to thirty boys present the play about Christ's birth, the arrival of the wise men and the shepherds and King Herod's hunt for the new born king of all men.

Hags and Old Men: On New Year's Eve and on the Epiphany masks are made and mounted on wooden supports. These masks, about one meter in height, are then dressed in worn out clothing and are made to resemble the very elderly. The masks are then placed on or near the house of a girl or boy who, by age, should have already married. The mask is usually accompanied by a humorous letter declaring who the recipient is. This will often bring about a lot of good natured teasing throughout the village.

The Goat, the Bear: The Goat's play and the Bear's play are presented in various forms throughout Romania with some differences. Five to eight men and or boys perform the Bear's play in masks and costumes. In the Goat's play children take various parts in masks, costumes and a clacking, wooden mouthed goat. It is a humorous story about a gypsy who wants to buy a goat minus the price of the milk it has already given. After the play a small donation is asked of the viewers.

Today, along with the individual events in the villages, most of these winter customs are performed together in Maramures at the Winter Festival in Sighetu-Marmatiei. The finest artists and folk groups from Maramures and all over Romania are invited to take part in this colorful festival. It takes place every year on the 27th of December.

Spring Customs

Like most of the world spring in Maramures is a time of renewal and rebirth. The fields are plowed and seeded and the life of the farmer begins again.

Singiorvul: The Holiday of St. George takes place on the 23rd of April throughout Maramures. It is a time when all living things including people are sprinkled with holy water to ensure their fertility in the coming year.

Tinjaua: This is an ancient custom still practiced in a few of the villages along the Mara River. In Harnicesti, Hoteni and Sat Sugatag a young man is celebrated as the hardest working man in the village. He sits upon a tinja (a small, two wheeled cart with a plow fixed to the back of it) decorated with green branches and colored ribbons. From his home he is pulled in the tinja by many young men and festively carried along the lanes of the village to the Mara River.

Upon arriving at the river the young man washes his face with the cold, clean water and says "Mara, Mara, beautiful river, wash away the bad and bring us happiness, peace in the world, good crops, peace in the country, wheat in the summer."

After this blessing the procession goes to the plowed field and the celebrated man says "Great shining sun, warm up the plowed fields and seeds. Make our crops bear fruit."

Finally, the tradition culminates with a feast with food, music and dancing at the hardest working man's home or any place where good food and drink can be found.

The Stana: Stana or sheep fold is a custom still practiced in the villages of Maramures. From the first until the fifteenth of May each village will separate its sheep into herds. The lambs will be removed from their mothers and all will leave to spend the summer in the mountains where good grazing can be found. The event usually takes place on the surrounding hills of the village. The sheep are milked one last time before the journey. Then, on the green hillsides, an enormous picnic takes place. The tables are laid with drinks and traditional foods. Folk music is played and everyone dances. The party usually continues into the middle of the night.

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