Tag Archives: traditions

Mărțișor – It’s Everywhere!

If you’re in Romania during the end of February, you’ll notice stands popping up all over selling little red-and-white pieces of jewelry for 1 leu (35 cents).  They’re on the roadsides, in the malls, on the subways… everywhere!  And they are most definitely not candy canes.

And, if you’re American, you’re probably asking yourself, “What on earth is going on here?!?!”  Because the only thing going on in February in America is the Superbowl and a whole lot of snow.  (Okay, so I guess we do have President’s Day and Valentine’s Day as well.)

Say “hello” to Mărțișor, a traditional Romanian celebration that goes all the way back to the ancient Roman or even the  Dacian (pre-Roman) people of the Carpathian region.  It has its roots as a fertility festival, the rebirth of nature, and a celebration of spring.  Celebrants would participate by giving and receiving mărțișoare (the small, red-and-white, pieces of jewelry).  In ancient times (and yet today in some rural areas) these trinkets were believed to have magical properties, guaranteeing the wearer of a good, blessed, and fertile future.  Today, for most people they’re simply a fun way to show you value someone’s friendship.

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Tongue-in-Cheek “Romania’s National List”

romaniaBefore reading, know that I haven’t lived here in Romania long enough to give anything like a credible list of what really makes Romania awesome.  And know that I love Romania and the people who live here.  It’s a wonderful country full of truly loving people, beautiful scenery, delicious food, amazing music…  The list goes on!

But, with all that said, I have been here long enough to notice some of the more unique (from an American perspective) aspects of life in Romania.  So here is my tongue-in-cheek “Romania’s National List.”  Enjoy!

Romania’s National Food:  Covrigi
covrigNow, do I really think the common, street-side pretzel is worthy to receive the illustrious title of “Romania’s National Food”?  A pretzel?  Really?  Yes, I do indeed believe so.  Now, there are certainly more tasty foods in Romania (from sarmale, delicious cabbage roles filled with meat and rice, to soarma, a favorite “fast food” composed of slices of beef or chicken put onto flatbread along with fries, peppers, cabbage, pickles, etc.).  And there are certainly more “Romanian” foods (take ciorba de burta, for instance, a delicious, slighlty sour soup that contains cow stomach, or piftie, a “jello” made with all the leftover parts of pork after the hotdogs are made, and they’re all clearly visible encased in the clear jello).  And, yes, there are healthier foods (I don’t have space enough to describe the wonders of raw fruits and vegetables in Romania).  But when you can go to the capital city and never fear going hungry because there’s always a pretzel stand within 100 feet… well, that says something.  So, not for its taste, nor for its cultural value, nor for its healthiness but simply for its shear inescapable presence… the covrig walks away with this most coveted title.  So go buy a pretzel and remember Romania today!

Romania’s National Bird:  The Mosquito
mosquitoAlthough you might think that this flying creature’s likeness to Dracula and his blood-sucking tendencies would give it the title of “Romania’s National Bird,” it’s actually its simple tenacity that gives it the name.  Here in the capital city of Bucharest, mosquitoes fly into our windows from April all the way to mid-November.  And these mosquitoes aren’t like what we have back home in Wisconsin.  No, these are tiny, fast, swarming demons, and their sole purpose is to torture you.  They’re not hungry; they just hate you.  Seriously, though, one mosquito in my room left me with about a dozen bites by the morning.  And that’s why it carries away the most sought-after title in all the kingdom of flying creatures:  Romania’s National Bird.

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The Bear Dance… or Bucky Badger Visits Romania

I didn’t take the above video, but if you add a couple inches of snow you’ll have exactly the scene that surprised us yesterday morning.

My first thought was honestly that somehow the UW Marching Band had decided Bucharest didn’t have enough of the good ol’ Bucky Badger spirit here and so made a special trip to spread the cheer.

My second thought was that I had been transported into the movie “Ee Taow” during the whole “spirit dance” thing.  Other than the snow and the slight change in costumes, it was remarkably similar.

Well, it turns out neither of my first impressions was quite on the mark.  The dance is a tradition that goes back more than 2000 years, to long before Christianity was in Romania.  I’m sure that now in Bucharest, the dance is continued simply for the cultural value, but when people were first doing this, it was believed to be a way to rid the village of evil spirits and so ensure a fresh and clean start for the new year.  At that time, it was even considered good luck if a real bear ever entered a person’s house.  (Well, I guess if you’re alive to tell the tale, that’s some pretty darn good luck, indeed!)

Anyhow, this is just one more example of how, when I start to get used to things here, something comes to remind me that I’m “not in Kansas anymore.”  🙂