When we first got to Romania, they had just had their revolution to throw Communism out, but the effects of Communism were still everywhere. The people had a lot to say to me about how things were with the Communists in charge. One of the things they talked about was Christmas.
Christmas didn’t vanish under Communism in Romania, but Ceasescu was trying to take out its connection to Christianity. He considered that Santa Claus was just too Christian, and he wanted to change his name. The word for Santa Claus in Romanian is “Mos Craciun” (pronounced Mosh Crachoon.) It literally means “Old man” or “Father” Christmas. The Communists in Romania wanted to change the name of Santa Claus to Old Man Ice. However, the people rebelled. When the revolution hit, everyone was back to calling him Mos Craciun, Santa Claus.
Communism had left the people of Romania completely poor, No one had anything extra. They were lucky to eat, and wouldn’t have eaten had they not grown gardens, raised pigs in their back yards, and known how to go to the mountains to look for wild berries, mushrooms, and other wild plants. In fact, a whole Science grew up around the things in the forest, and there was a major at the university studying what they could eat in the forest called Agro Montonologie ( Studies of Mountain Agriculture). When Christmas came, there may have been money for gifts, but there was nothing in the stores to buy. Parents couldn’t buy presents for their kids. Christmas became a time not of gift giving, but a time of drinking. Even some children got drunk. They told me the only gift they got was the Christmas tree, and they put it up on Christmas Eve. However, things are better in Romania now, several years after the Communists were thrown out, and I see pictures from Romanian friends on Facebook where the Christmas tree has lots of gifts under the tree like the homes in the west now.
I encountered one brother and sister who told me a terrible story of what happened to kids. They still had the story that if you were good, Santa brought you toys. However, they were also told that if you were bad, Santa brought you switches. To many of them, it was just a story, but in one family I met, the kids actually only got switches one year.
Communism was trying to stamp out the essence of Christmas, but it couldn’t. One thing it allowed that the Romanians still do was Saint Nicholas Day. Saint Nicholas, according to the Romanians, is Santa Claus’ poor brother. There were two people giving gifts, not just one, Santa and St. Nicholas. Christmas is still on December 25th, and St. Nicholas Day is on December 6th. On December 6, the Romanian children clean their shoes and place them near the door. The next day, There is fruit and candy in their shoes from St. Nicholas.
Romania had such a long tradition of Christianity that Communism couldn’t get rid of it. They say that the Apostle Thomas originally brought Christianity to Romania. In every other country I have been in, the English Christmas carols are either sung in English or translated into that language. However, Romania was different. Romania has their very own, very old unique Christmas carols that are different from the rest of the world. I enjoyed some of their Christmas carols so much that some of them still ring through my head, and it has been several years since I was in Romania. One they sang was called “Trei Pastore.” It is about three shepherds meeting in the mountains to gather sun flowers to make a crown of the sun flowers to take to baby Jesus.
Before Christmas every year in Romania, they have always gone Christmas caroling from house to house. However, where in the west, we give popcorn, Christmas cookies, hot chocolate or something like that to the carolers, the Romanians give them money. The young people take this money and have a Christmas party or a New Years Party with it. This is when I found out that even some children were getting drunk. I taught Bible classes and reading classes in the village for the children in the village as a kind of volunteer work. On the holidays, a group of them showed up outside of my house, and I opened the front window to talk to them, and my heart was broken. They group of children were drunk. They were just elementary school age. It was very sad. Their parents spent the holidays drunk, and they thought it was the way to have fun, so they used their money from caroling and went out and got drunk.
The next time this group of children came to my house, they were sober, and I invited them in when they were sober. There was a new McDonald’s in walking distance of the village. I had bought my kids Happy Meals from McDonald’s. I asked the Romanian kids if they knew anything about McDonald’s, and they didn’t, so I showed them the boxes and toys, and I told them what kind of food was in the Happy Meals and how much they cost. I told them that they could have spent that money they spent on getting drunk on a Happy Meal instead of getting drunk. They all decided that next time, they were going to buy a Happy Meal because they liked that much better than getting drunk.
Also in the village one New Years, my husband had left the house and had gone down the road to get a family in the car who wanted to make Ciorba de Burta (pronunciation: chorba de Burta) for us. It was cow’s stomach soup, tripe. We had never eaten it, and they wanted us to try it for New Years. My husband left the door unlocked when he left. I always kept the door locked, but with the door unlocked, it allowed a group of gypsies to enter my house without permission. They were carrying a goat’s head on a stick. They came in and began demanding money. I didn’t have any money to give them. I only had Lei, the Romanian currency, of what was worth about $1.00 in American money, and I told them I didn’t have any money. They began running at me with the goat’s head and screaming and chanting! I opened my purse and showed them all the money I had and gave it to them. They still weren’t satisfied and kept running at me with that goats head and making noise. I grabbed some Christmas cookies and gave them Christmas cookies, and that satisfied them. They took the Christmas cookies and left.
Under Communism, the gypsies were more hidden. They lived in their gypsy covered wagons pulled by horses, and they were undocumented. However, after the revolution, they began moving into the houses that the Germans who left in mass exodus for Germany had left behind, and they were much more visible after the revolution when we got there.
Communism couldn’t get rid of Christmas in Romania no matter how hard it tried. They couldn’t get rid of Santa Claus either. Once people celebrate Christmas, they don’t want to give it up. Communism couldn’t stamp out Christianity in Romania. Before I went to Romania, I read an article called “The Spark of the Revolution” that was about the securitate (secret police) kidnapping a preacher in Timnisoara, and the people went crazy when they figured out what happened because they thought it was unacceptable. Communism tried to destroy the country of Romania, but the Romanians have emerged from Communism and thriving. They have Christmas presents now. They have Santa Claus, not Old Man Ice. They have Saint Nicholas. They have traditional holiday food like cosanac (sweet bread) and sarmale (cabbage rolls) that are both delicious. They have lots of food now. They have unique, beautiful Christmas carols. They have sleighs pulled by horses in the snow jingling up and down the streets of the village with happy laughing voices. –Their gypsies are also more visible than before. They also have McDonald’s and Coca Cola now. Many things were not stamped out by the Communists, and even though they tried, they couldn’t get rid of Christmas!