Arguably the most wonderful time of the year this Christmas in Romania there’s an abundance of special flavours that have a distinctly historic character. Compared with what we see and experience in other parts of the world, this Christmas Romania provides something of a blast from the past.
by Oana Vasiliu
The carolling tradition is strong and healthy in Romania. Most of the carols are traditional songs that are usually sung by groups of boys and girls, who go round visiting houses between Christmas Eve and the New Year, door to door, spreading the good word of Jesus. Traditionally, the singers are rewarded with sweets and money from their well-wishing audience.
Nobody knows the exact place or moment when carols first appeared, but many historians trace them back to 4th century Rome. Same historians consider Romanian Christmas carols as some of the oldest in the world, with tunes and themes varying according to their region of origin. Some of the carols tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, some are blessings to those that open their doors to the carol singers, to their families, future crops, and some are wishes of good luck, health, and love in the new year.
The Romanian carols are quite different in tone and sound from the English carols we are all used to. Their charm is related to their origins and their age with many dating back hundreds of years. Many of the Romanian carols sound a bit sad but they transmit so much warmth to the listeners. Despite the variety of Romanian carols, the most beloved are the ones glorifying the birth of Jesus. Most of them describe the biblical scene in detail, and the emotional lyrics focus on the conditions Virgin Mary had to endure to give birth to baby Jesus. The long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the cold winter night, the stable, the messenger star, and the arrival of the Magi are all mentioned in rhymed lyrics. The carols plead for harmony, peace and happiness among all people.
One of the most famous and best known traditional Romanian carols is the “Star Carol”. The star is beautifully decorated with coloured paper, tinsel, silver foil and sometimes bells, and put on a pole. In the middle of the star is a picture of baby Jesus. Carol singers take the star with them when they go carol singing. The words of the Star Carol are:
“The star has appeared on high,
Like a big secret in the sky,
The star is bright,
May all your wishes turn out right.”
A note from recent history
For several decades the Communist dictatorship banned all works with a religious character and especially those based on sacred texts. However, an exception was made for the Christmas carols of Madrigal Choir. The Madrigal Choir explained to the “ministry” how their Christmas music had reached into the Romanian public soul and they were subsequently granted authorisation to release a CD of their music but only under the condition that it would be distributed exclusively abroad in order to prevent the “contamination” of the Romanian population with the religiosity of their songs.
Bucharest is offering a great selection of Christmas concerts that will cater for all tastes. Traditionally, Romania have several folk musicians who perform Christmas concerts and these are highly anticipated by their public. Stefan Hrusca, Tudor Gheorghe, Grigore Lese and Fuego are among the Romanian artists whose concerts are statements for the Romanian Christmas. Some artists bring Romanian carols in new arrangements each year, in an attempt to bring to life the authentic character and flavour of an ancient tradition that everyone knows, understands and loves.
One of those not to be missed is the concert offered by the Madrigal Choir in the Romanian Athenaeum, on December 18-19. Tickets cost between RON 50-250 and they are worth every bani, especially taking into consideration that this choir has been delivering Christmas magic for 54 years now.
For some years now the Johann Strauss Ensemble has been performing Christmas concerts for the Romanian public. This year catch them in Bucharest, Brasov and Cluj Napoca. The tickets prices vary from RON 20 to 200.
Schöenbrunn Palace Orchestra Vienna will once again enchant the Romanian public, on December 23, in a concert featuring soprano Simona Eisinger. The compositions of Johann Strauss, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert will be presented for the audience.
In the Radio Hall, several Christmas concerts are taking place, from those organised with the Children’s Choir, currently three concerts announced, to traditional ones made in association with religious choirs and folk music tones sung by Paula Seling accompanied by the Radio Hall Choir.
Unfortunately, at The Romanian Opera, the Christmas concert is already sold out, so we can only imagine how wonderful can be the dozens of sopranos and baritones.
See www.eventim.ro for tickets.