Christmas in Romania is such a fun experience. It’s not quite as commercialized as in the US (although it’s getting there), and the magic of the holiday can still be felt in the excitement of your friends, family, and co-workers.
There are some major differences between the US and Romania when it comes to Christmas. The first is that people do not decorate their houses the day after Thanksgiving (because Thanksgiving doesn’t exist here). Most people here actually decorate their houses and trees much closer to the actual day, with the majority trimming their trees on Christmas Eve.
The second difference is that basically the entire country shuts down – almost all shops are closed, everyone’s off work, and everyone hunkers down at home with family. Everything gets very sleepy for a few days, so everyone prepares by rushing to the grocery store and buying enough provisions to last for several days. The grocery stores are a nightmare. We did our shopping several days early to avoid the madness.
In my soon-to-be Romanian family, the tradition is to gather on Christmas Eve, eat sarmale and salata de boeuf, drink soooo much homemade wine, and open presents. Then, everybody goes to sleep happy, full, and kind of drunk. It’s a family centered day.
Typical gifts include useful items, like clothing (sweaters usually, because it gets COLD here), perfumes, chocolates, and oranges. We got so many oranges for Christmas. They’re delicious. This year I received some warm pajamas (see above, cold) and some Chanel perfume. Claudiu got sweaters, jeans, a nice hoodie from Hungary.
Did I mention I ate sarmale? So much. Then after we came home, I made some more in the crockpot and we ate them while we watched Home Alone (also a Romanian Christmas tradition).
Leading up to Christmas, people participate in other activities, such as the newly popular “Black Friday” sales (they’re not quite like what we have in America because they can happen any time, last any length of time, and sometimes are not on Friday) and going to the Christmas Fairs (in Romanian, a Christmas fair is called Târgul de Crăciun).
Bucharest has the biggest Christmas fair and several other niche fairs, but the fair that gets the most publicity is the Sibiu Christmas Fair. We went to the Sibiu fair again this year because sadly, Brasov’s Christmas fair is not very big.
Christmas fairs are common in almost every bigger city in Romania. They’re also common in other European countries – full of lights, candies, and hot mulled wine.
The Christmas Fair in Sibiu is pretty impressive. To start with, Sibiu has a much larger square than Brasov. In fact, they have two (Piata Mare and Mica). This year, they filled both of the squares with the little Christmas houses, activities, and food trucks. You can read my blog post about last year’s visit to the Sibiu Christmas Fair here.
This year, it was pretty much the same (with the exception of the expanded section of food trucks in Piata Mica). I think I was a bit disappointed this year because I am always looking for interesting handmade Romanian items and the little houses only had a lot of made-in-China toys and other cheap stuff.
I did try some roasted chestnuts (castane in Romanian) for the first time! They tasted kind of like potato? I would love to hear what other people think roasted chestnuts taste like 🙂
I wish Brasov would get with the program and expand ours because I think it could be so wonderful (and we wouldn’t have to drive to Sibiu to get our Christmas vibe on :D).
From my family to yours, I hope you have a happy and healthy 2018!
My only experience with roasted chestnuts are some I bought at Costco last year. They were vile. I returned them because, having bought them from Costco, there were a lot of them.