Caroling on Christmas Eve in Romania in the Early 1990s

by Mira

A fictionalized account that stays true to the spirit of many Christmases I spent in Transylvania. Hopefully it will help you imagine some Christmas traditions in Romania better.

I wrote this some years ago, and I think my voice sounds a little silly for various reasons explained below, but I caved in when Jo expressed interest in learning more about the Christmas traditions in Romania, so I decided to post it. Hopefully it will help you imagine these traditions better than if I write about them in a non-fiction way.

This was part of a novel about being a teenager in Romania that I abandoned because I wasn’t doing a great job with the writing. I was still "finding my voice," a new one, in fiction, after many years of taking a break from creative writing. I now write differently. Also, writing about my teenage years I somehow got stuck with something close to an imagined teenage voice (not mine -- I was writing absurdist plays as a teenager, or imagining I was; don't know where this voice came from).

So please be kind.

Now, all that said, if you were wondering how people spend Christmas in Romania, I hope you will enjoy my story somewhat. It’s actually about Christmas Eve and the small hours of Christmas Day.

Do note: Eating and drinking and singing is not all we do at Christmastime. There are many interesting folk traditions (with lots of symbolic elements), a nice church service on Christmas day, and so on. This is just a story that I happened to have on-hand right now about caroling on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve in Transylvania
Christmas Eve in Transylvania

Place, Time, Characters

Here are the characters of this bit:

  • 16-year-old Alexandra, living in Bucharest but spending her Christmas break with relatives in Transylvania
  • her cousins Adelin (21) and Cosmin (20)
  • Lucian, one of Adelin’s and Cosmin’s friends in that small town in Transylvania
  • Lotte, Lucian’s 18-year old cousin visiting from Germany, where her family had emigrated before the fall of Communism

You’ll make sense of the other characters as you read the story.

The story takes place in early 1990s. A few years previously, Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu had fled Bucharest by helicopter. They were shot dead on Christmas Day 1989.

The Story (Christmas Eve in Romania in the 1990s)

That Christmas Eve they had brought a tall fir tree to school’s gym, and decorated it together: Alexandra, her cousins Adelin and Cosmin, Lucian and Lotte, and a bunch of other young people who were eager to bask in the glow of an attractive teenage girl from abroad who looked around herself with a perpetual smile on her face, and accepted gracefully the shot glasses of plum brandy directed her way.

“How’s life in Germany? Do you guys party like we do?” asked one freckled seventeen-year-old, approaching eighteen-year-old Lotte. His voice was barely audible over the loud music blaring from a boombox.

“Well, life in Germany . . .” Lotte started, talking in a smooth tone of voice.

Florin’s glance traveled from her green eyes to her lips. He found he couldn’t concentrate on lipreading her words.

“I like it,” continued Lotte, shouting this time.

“You like it here?” asked Freckles, apparently forgetting his previous question.

“I do. I like it here too,” Lotte said, shouting again.

Florin rushed to a table to pour himself and Lotte some plum brandy. They hadn’t bothered to bring any food, since they counted on eating well later in the night.

“Another one for you,” Freckles said, handing Lotte another shot glass filled to the brim.

Lotte laughed and stretched out her hand. “For me? Thank you!” She then took a big gulp. “Ah, it burns,” she said, smiling.

“Warms up your throat for later,” said Adelin, who had been standing behind her, drink in hand, watching her long black sheet of hair and her figure below. She turned to look at him. He then downed his drink, smiled at her, and then walked to the table to dispose of his glass. “Ready for caroling?” he said, looping an arm around her shoulders.

“We’re going caroling?” Lotte asked. “Let me ask my cousin,” she added.

“He’s coming with us,” said Adelin, loudly. “We’re all going!” Then he gestured to his brother Cosmin to turn off the music.

“Time to go visit some friends,” Adelin said to Lotte. “Cosmin, turn off the Christmas lights.”

“Do we take the bottle with us for the road?” asked Freckles.

“No, leave it there. There’ll be plenty of booze where we’re going,” he said, turning to smirk at Lotte.

“Aren’t we a bit too tired already?” asked Lotte, with a giggle, as she made to put on her coat.

“You think you’re tired now?” he asked, a serious smile playing about his lips. “You know, Florin’s grandfather, fighting in WWII . . . they slept while they walked. Held arms together, three-four people, and took turns sleeping. Although I wouldn’t recommend it on these gelled streets. But you can take my arm,” Adelin said, and offered her his arm with a flourish. “Should we go?”

Lotte smiled and gave him his arm, as if invited to dance in a ballroom.

They headed out of the gym into the night, joining other small groups of people who wondered from house to house raising their voices in harmony in the crisp air of winter, along icy roads, streets, and alleys leading to friends and neighbors who welcomed them with appetizers and sweets.

“Meat, fat, pigskin, pig liver, and lungs,” said Mrs. Ioan, their first host of the night, marveling over Lotte who sat at the end of the kitchen table eating a type of sausage called sângerete -- or sânzărete, in the regional variant. Seeing how Lotte was seemingly trying to identify in her mouth the various ingredients, Mrs. Ioan chuckled. “Do you like it?” she asked. “It’s called sânzărete,” she said.

“Yes, I do, actually. It’s called sân . . .?” started Lotte, puzzled as to how the word went.

Sânzărete,” repeated Mrs. Ioan, with a lopsided smile. “From sânge, blood,” she added.

Lotte stopped chewing, a big chunk of sausage still in her mouth.

Mrs. Ioan was ever so amused. “You can relax, there’s no blood in ours. We don’t like it either,” she said, resting a hand on Lotte’s arm, a friendly glint in her eyes.

“Oh, good!” gasped Lotte. “No pig’s blood for me,” she said with a giggle, looking up at Mrs. Ioan hopefully, and then her gaze shifted back to her plate where more unknown food items were waiting to be sampled.

“Now try our cocioane!” said Mrs. Ioan, tirelessly.

Cocioane . . .?” Lotte asked, unsure what it meant.

Aspic,” said Mrs. Ioan.

Lotte heaved a sigh of relief. She knew about aspic. She looked over the table at Lucian, and noticed he was smiling at her. She smiled back and cut a bite.

“We ate at the school,” said Lucian, loudly, so that the others who had been at the gym could hear him.

“Did you have sweets there, too?” asked Mrs. Ioan, reaching enthusiastically for a plate with loaves of sponge cake with swirls of poppy seeds or ground nuts, and placing it next to Lotte’s dish.

 “I love sponge cake!” Lotte said. “My mom makes it too,” she added.

“Does she make poppy seed cake too?” Mrs. Ioan asked.

“No, only the one with ground nuts,” Lotte said.

“Well, have some then. See how you like it,” said Mrs. Ioan.

“It looks good,” said Lotte, and dove into the cake with her hands.

“She seems to have quite an appetite for a girl her size,” said Mrs. Ioan, looking at Lucian.

“Must be the plum brandy,” said Freckles, who had been munching on tobă, a pork offal, tongue and pigskin pudding, made with garlic and pepper.

“Must be,” said Mrs. Ioan, chuckling at Freckles.

“Guys, finish there quickly. We kinda need to hit the road,” said Adelin, rising to his feet, quaffing the last of his drink, and placing his empty glass on the table.

“Stay some more,” pleaded Mrs. Ioan. “Let the girl eat.” She smiled at Lotte, who had just finished the last of her sponge cake slice, and was now wiping her mouth with a napkin.

“Yes, let her finish her sponge cake,” said Florin. “The night is young.”

“I’m ready,” said Lotte, feeling guilty of holding back the revelers.

“Good,” said Adelin, encouragingly. “Thank you very much, Mrs. Ioan.”

“Thank you for the caroling,” she said.


The carolers’ visits to other houses meant more of the same, starting with the carols -- O ce veste minunată (“Oh What Wonderful News”), Trei păstori (“Three Shepherds”), Noapte de vis (“Silent Night”), and others -- which they sang outside in the front yards and inside in people’s kitchens, and ending with the invitation to sit down, eat and drink.

When they arrived at Freckles’ house at 1pm, they were welcomed by his mother, Mrs. Matei, her husband, and Freckles’ ninety-year-old grandfather.

“He’s been waiting for you,” said Mrs. Matei to her son, when he stepped in accompanied by his friends and a bunch of other neighbors who joined them on the road.

The ninety-year-old man, seated at the head of the kitchen table, on a semicircular couch, smiled at the group with his one remaining tooth.

Lucian turned to Freckles. “We should have come here first; the poor man’s been waiting for us.”

“Ah, don’t worry,” said Freckles. “He’s tough.” He waved everybody in, gesturing to them to sit down as his mother was bringing fresh shot glasses and filling them up.

“Grandpa, tell them how you ate dog food in the war!”

Grandpa laughed, then dismissed the suggestion with his right hand. “It’s Christmas Eve. Let me tell you a poem!” And he started on a long poem by George Coșbuc, about a man who loses all of his three sons in World War I. It wasn’t very festive, but, in its own sad way, and with Grandpa reciting stanza after stanza with heartfelt emotion, which he somehow managed to do time after time, it fit with the spirit of celebrating life at Christmas: Christ’s and everyone else’s.

“Bravo! Bravo!” said Florin’s mother to her father-in-law. She started applauding and looked at the others meaningfully, to invite the same gesture on their part. Then she turned her back to the old man and addressed the guests. “We have interrupted what you were singing outside. Please, sing some more,” she said. “Grandpa doesn’t hear very well, but he likes it when people visit him.”

Adelin turned to the others. “ ‘Good Morning Christmas Eve.’ One, two, three!” And they started on that short carol, their voices layering it beautifully, followed by “Oh What Wonderful News.” Singing in that makeshift choir, Alexandra thought back to the Christmas of 1989, when the newly-minted free newspaper Libertatea printed a series of Christmas carols, the first time a newspaper did so in decades.

3 Days of Christmas

After this night of caroling, there are three days of Christmas. I think the tradition was for people to spend December 25 with their family and the remaining two days visiting each other.

Taste of Romania

My favorite book in English about Romanian cooking. Includes the most common dishes and some tasty recipes culled from various chefs. Also includes bits about Romanian culture, some Romanian Jewish recipes, and more. Makes a great Christmas gift.

Blue Guide Romania

My favorite book on the arts and culture of Romania. The author, Caroline Juler, is an artist and art historian, with an art history degree from Courtauld Institute in London.
Blue Guide Romania (Blue Guides)

Old Romanian Fairy Tales

Would make a great Christmas gift
Old Romanian Fairytales

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: Eastern and Central Europe

I love this collection from DK!
Updated: 04/10/2016, Mira
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


Mira on 01/01/2015

Thank you for your nice words. I appreciate them.

DerdriuMarriner on 12/29/2014

Mira, Your story is captivating. I love the way you slide traditions so easily into the storyline. Perhaps some day you'll dust this off and set it into a finished work. Your narrative conjures vivid images.

Mira on 09/24/2014

Thank you, Pam! Glad you enjoyed it :-)

dustytoes on 09/24/2014

This is a fun read Mira! I just kept thinking, this 16 year old girl is being fed booze over and over and everyone is fine with it! It's a festive look into Romania life. Well done.

Mira on 12/24/2013

Thank you, Lizzie :)

Snurre on 12/23/2013

Good luck with your book, Mira! I loved the story, so I'm sure it will be good!

Mira on 12/16/2013

Thank you, Emma, for your kind words!

Guest on 12/16/2013

Mira, With crossed fingers for tons of best wishes and luck, I await your children's book on Christmas in Romania!
Your teen-age tale was enchantingly told. I'm glad that you dusted it off and shared it.

Mira on 12/16/2013

That's a wild but interesting idea. I will think of writing a story about Christmas in Romania and turn it into a children's book!

cmoneyspinner on 12/16/2013

Oh to be sixteen again and know what I know now. :) I see no reason why you shouldn't find an illustrator and turn this into a picture book.

You might also like

A Tour of Herastrau Park and the Village Museum in Bucharest

An enjoyable way to spend time with a friend is to walk through a park as you...

Trout Baked in Salt Crust with Thyme and Tarragon, Served with...

This is a super easy and fail-proof way to bake fish, and the result, paired ...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...