Romanian Traditions: Name Days

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In Romania, you are a very lucky person because you get not one, but ~two~ birthday celebrations! You are celebrated twice every year, once on your actual day of birth and the other on your name day. Before coming to Romania, I had only heard of name days from Game of Thrones. So, I guess I knew they existed, but I didn’t really
think about if it was a real thing or not.

la-multi-ani-de-sf-mariaThe tradition of Romanian name days originates in religion. The Eastern Orthodox church  of Romania has many, many saints, and each saint is assigned a particular day. If on that day you share a name with that saint, guess what? It’s your name day! And since the vast majority of this country is Orthodox (and serious about it), name da
ys have a significant place in the culture of the Romanian people.
These name day celebrations can be huge. For example, there are like two million people who celebrate on St. George’s day. 10% of the country celebrates St. John as a name day. These seem like huge numbers considering the relatively small population size of Romania (20 million), but keep in mind that they tend to reuse names a lot here.

Everyone here is a Mihail, Ion, Nicolae, Florina, Stefan, Vasile, Bogdan, etc.

I celebrated my very first name day this month. I wasn’t really expecting anything because I’m American. We don’t really celebrate this sort of thing. We do a “birthday month” instead (this is a Millennial thing, I think).

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On my very first name day in Romania, people wished me a “La Multi Ani” (to many years – aka the thing Romanians say at every celebration) and they brought me flowers. I don’t think I’ve ever received so many flowers at once 🙂 I put them all together to make a mega arrangement. I didn’t have a vase big enough, so I put them in the blender and wrapped the blender all pretty (you can take the girl out of the redneck, but you can’t take the redneck out of the girl!).

It was a lovely day, so we had a grill outside. It was really nice!

I want to say thank you to all the wonderful people in my life that helped make my very first name day something really sweet and special.

Tampa Mountain

20150622_202552In Brasov, there is always one way to know where you are – find Tampa mountain. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the big mountain in the middle of town that has a Hollywood-style “BRASOV” sign on it. Some call it pretentious, but I absolutely love that sign. Rumor has it that is was originally an art project done by some local students and that they just left it. Others might try to copy it (ahem*COUGH*rasnov*COUGH*), but ours is the best 🙂

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Anyway, you can always look up and find that dang mountain and suddenly you know where you are. It’s a unique landmark that You can also walk up it.

I had a free afternoon and I decided that since the weather wasn’t excruciatingly hot, I would attempt the trek. The weather has been very hot this summer, and I’ve been avoiding the day moon as much as possible. I’m glad it’s a little more temperate and I can venture out during the day. I bought a chocolate covrigi from Gigi’s and headed out.

wp-1470892486143.jpgThe trail takes about an hour to get to the top and while it’s not that strenuous, the trail seems to be in some disrepair and in places, treacherous. I had the pleasure of going up Tampa three times last year, and I can tell you that there has been some serious erosion since last year. I question the safety of the trail, but then again, Romania’s motto seems to be “it’s safe enough!” aka, don’t be a dumb ass and you won’t die. Maybe.

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The medieval wall around the city – walk along it to get to Tampa

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At one point in the trail, there is a steep drop off on one side and a high incline on the other – and a tree going over the trail. Now, it’s not a big tree. It’s small enough that you’re thinking – is this going to slide down the hill when I go over it? I contemplated going under, but there’s just not enough space. I’m not the tallest person, so I kind of shimmied over, but the whole time I was wondering if I was about to win a Darwin award. I guess they could, I don’t know, cut the tree (?!!), but instead they actually BLAZED a trail marker on it. On the tree that was blocking the trail. Like I couldn’t tell this was the trail. This is the only way to go – over the tree!

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That’s the end of my rant because once you reach the top, it’s so beautiful you forget the trail completely. There are actually two overlooks – one is behind the BRASOV sign and the other is just a little farther (further?) up the mountain.

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Can you spot the Black Church?

The more popular overlook is definitely the one behind the BRASOV sign. The day I went on the hike, the platform was totally packed. Now, most of these people did not walk up the mountain. If hiking isn’t your thing or you just want to get a good view without getting sweaty, you can take the cable car up. It’s about 15 lei up and down, I think. A one-way ticket (either up or down) costs 10 lei. I took the cable car down because I am not very coordinated and since I lack grace I thought I would fall going back down the trail.

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The day moon – it burns!

I digress. I finally got a chance to get to the front of the platform and check out the view. I love seeing all of the roofs and the streets from up high. Sometimes you see things that you didn’t know about, like a cool graveyard, and now you have something new to explore.

It’s neat to see big structures like the Black Church looking so small. It’s also cool how the sound carries up the mountain. You can hear kids screaming and dogs barking up there.

wp-1470892486148.jpgGoing up to the other overlook, I noticed they had built some new platforms. I was really happy because I could actually get a better view than last year, and I had a good place to sit and eat my covrigi (Romanian dessert circle pretzel-thing). You also kind of feel like the King of the World.

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Gigi’s Covrigi – best 2 lei I’ve spent all week

I sat up there for a while before I heard thunder and I could see the clouds rolling in over Postavarul (in Poiana Brasov). I decided it was time to get down the mountain, so I hopped on the cable car and rode down. I got home just in time for it to start raining.

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If you’re looking for a fun afternoon activity, Tampa mountain is where it’s at 🙂 I spend a lot of time looking up at Tampa which is a beautiful view, but It’s nice to get a different perspective.

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Military Graduation in Piata Sfatului

I was in Piata Sfatului the other day and I got to see a military graduation! These students are air force cadets from the local academy. I didn’t understand most of the ceremony, but I took some pictures and video to show you what happened 🙂 Afterward there was a cool fly over with a helicopter and some planes.
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They sang a song!

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Afterward, I stopped at Glaze Haze for a ridiculously delicious doughnut.

Congratulations, graduates!
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Romanian Traditions: Weddings (part 3)

Okay – this is the third and last post on Romanian weddings! Are you exhausted yet? I am! 😛

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Thankfully, the third day of the wedding was much more low key. We made our way to a different restaurant for another meal with lots of music and lots of guests. The wedding the night before included about 300 people. This dinner was smaller, but not by much. It was so packed that the “young” people were asked to move to tables outside. I might be in my 30s, but I’m never too old for the kids’ table 🙂

It was a blessing in disguise because not only was the evening very pleasant, but the music inside was (again) very loud. Now, I like loud music. I am not that old. However, after this wedding, I think traditional Romanian music (aka Music Popular) is now tattooed on my brain. The day after the festivities, I’m pretty sure I was brushing my teeth and doing the hora in my bathroom.

The food was two courses: a delicious filling soup and a plate of mixed grill meats. Both were incredible. There were the little cakes again (!!) and of course, more tuica. We also had a very tasty dessert bread that is traditionally served at special occasions. I’m not sure what the name of it is – can anyone tell me?

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The big traditions for this night included something a lot of people didn’t know about – so I’m assuming it’s either old or not practiced in some parts of the country. Lots of wedding guests left and dressed up in their best Halloween costumes and returned with a wheelbarrow. The strongest man in costume put the groom’s father in the wheelbarrow and pushed him around the restaurant while the guests danced. All of the parents had a turn – I think even a grandparent or two got a ride in the wheelbarrow. It was a raucous and very hilarious. The costumes weren’t like the commercial ones we have in America. They reminded me more of what costumes used to be thirty or forty years ago. Simple and scary. Even the little kids were dressed up, but they were adorable (ducks).

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After this craziness, the party wound down and the guests began to leave. We ended up staying until midnight, then I drove us home. I don’t know how people went to work on Monday, I was literally so exhausted and sore from dancing and having fun.

Overall, I feel very privileged to have been a guest at the wedding of our friends. I had a great time and I wish them all the very best in their marriage. Casa de piatra!

Romanian Traditions: Weddings (part 2)

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The second day of a Romanian day is the longest. My day started around 10:30 am when I met up with the bride at her house. She had just finished getting her hair and makeup done and there were lots of women there to help her finish getting ready. They helped her put on her dress and veil and then we waited.

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Soon we could hear music – you guessed it – the Romanian band showed up along with the groom and all of his family. The procession was led by the ring bearer and flower girl (? the children were carrying candles decorated with flowers and I’m not sure what their official titles were). The groom brought the bride’s bouquet and presented it to her.

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Everyone crowded inside the living room of the house to see the bride and groom with the parents and godparents. And yes, the band was also in the living room. I didn’t know so many people could squeeze into such a small space. More tuica and cakes were passed around. Lots of pictures were taken.

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Then we were off to city council where the actual legal wedding would happen. This is different than in America – here, you can get married in the church and it’s a legal marriage. In Romania, it only counts if you do it at city hall. Then you can go have a religious ceremony.

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This ceremony is mainly for family and close friends. Despite this fact, we were still a very large group. Again, we all piled in the magistrate’s room to hear the vows. After the vows were said, there was a short champagne reception (with cakes!!) and everyone lined up to congratulate the bride and groom.

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Many of the guests had bouquets of flowers with them. Those who didn’t stopped at the florist across the street from city hall. I didn’t know about this tradition, so I didn’t bring any flowers 😦  When the bride and groom were leaving city hall, guests who had brought bouquets held them up to make a cool flower arch.

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With the legal formalities out of the way, it was time for the church ceremony. Mind you, this is a smaller town, so we are walking from place to place. At this point we have gained a few people, so we have become something of a spectacle – people are standing on their doorsteps watching a huge wedding party pilgrimage to the house of worship.

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At the church, the priest performed the ceremony. Everything was in Romanian, and I’m not orthodox, so I have no idea what was going on. The only part I knew was when the priest puts crowns on the bride and groom to signify that they are the king and queen of their house. The ceremony at the church was lovely. Afterwards, we threw rice on the couple and went out in the street and danced.

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After all of this, we headed to the reception because the real fun was about to begin. I had no idea at the time, but we were about to have four meals served over the next twelve hours. Plus dessert. I can’t tell you how full I was after all this food.

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The first meal was more like a sampler plate of meats, cheese, and vegetables. An hour later, we got sarmale and polenta. After that came the fish course, which was so delicious I tried to eat all of it – big mistake 🙂 I could barely move at this point. We had another course of mixed grill meats with vegetables. Then, the wedding cake. Of course, we needed a lot of energy. There was dancing almost the entire wedding. The only time people weren’t dancing was when they were serving the food, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary for people to eat a little, dance, and then go back to their plates.

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The dancing included a lot of hora (which I did!) and some other faster paced danced (which I tried, but failed miserably lol). There was a photo booth and some other seating outside, so when we needed to cool off from the dancing, we headed outside to enjoy the cool night air.

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Negotiating the ransom for the bride

Towards the end of the night, the groom’s friends kidnapped the bride. This is a common tradition at any Romanian wedding. The groomsmen escort the bride out of the wedding at some point after dinner and take her somewhere. In the case of this wedding, they took her to the nearby town of Bran to a reggae concert where she danced on stage and had some fun. In order to get her back, the groom has to negotiate some kind of ransom. This night, the ransom was that he had to accept a fake bride (his male cousin dressed in wedding drag).

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Then it was the groom’s turn to demand a “punishment” for the groomsmen for stealing the bride. At this wedding, the lead instigator had a soup ladle tied on his belt and the other groomsmen had to undo the tie with their teeth. Hilarity ensued. Then they took off the shirt (? more punishment?) of the lead instigator and he had to dance with the fake bride.

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One of the last traditions I failed to get on camera 😦 After the bride threw her bouquet, the lucky girl who caught it was seated in a chair next to the bride. One of the bride’s female relatives took off her veil and replaced it with a head scarf. Then, they put the veil on the girl who caught the flowers. This ceremony signifies that the bride is now a wife, and the girl with the veil is the “new” bride. One of the things that I really liked about this wedding is that it felt very traditional but also updated for a modern audience. The ceremonies and customs were preserved, but it never felt like we were at an old-fashioned wedding.

There was one custom that was strictly observed – the giving of monetary wedding gifts. This is one huge difference in American and Romanian weddings. In America, the couple registers for items at a couple of stores. They probably want a toaster, some plates, and towels. You go to the store, get their list, and purchase only those items for the couple. Obviously, you are welcome to buy them whatever you want, but usually the bride and groom appreciate receiving items that they’ve picked out themselves. In Romania, the wedding guests do not bring gifts. There are no registries. Instead, you bring cash. And lots of it. Each couple is expected to give around 300 euro to the bride and groom. The idea is that you are covering the cost of your food at the reception and also throwing in some extra to help the newlyweds get started in life. You bring the money to the reception and at the end of the night there are envelopes waiting for you on the table. You put the now fattened envelope into a special container – later, the bride, groom, and families will sit around and count the money to make sure they all arrive at the same number. They do this the same night as the reception, as is tradition. Then, they pay the venue, photographer, videographer, etc. out of this money.

Once the night was late enough, the traditional Romanian music ended and the DJ turned on the modern dance tunes. We ended up dancing until 3 am, and we would’ve danced longer, but they had a wedding the next morning and they had to set up. So they kicked us out. We put our envelope into the appropriate place and found our way home.

I ended up sleeping until 1 pm the next day, which if you know me, is really out of character even if I stay up late. I was really exhausted. But the wedding weekend wasn’t over yet – there was one more night of revelry before we sent the newlyweds on their honeymoon.