New Year's Eve
Topics covered in this section:
- Pronunciation Help
Anciently, the New Year was celebrated on the day of the autumnal equinox. Later it was changed to the day of the spring equinox. In ancient Romania it was celebrated on March 1, the beginning of a new vegetation cycle.
However, by administrative law, the Romans changed New Year's Day to January 1 to correspond to the day they appointed new consuls.
In Romanian tradition, New Year's Eve falls in the middle of the twelve days of Christmas. The first six days of the folk cycle are considered to be an evil period when the spirits of the dead roam the earth. During this period, the natural order of things is overthrown and time and space return to their initial state of chaos.
The second six days of the twelve-day folk cycle are devoted to rituals meant to divine the future and to cast out evil spirits. The rituals performed during this period are designed to restore the world to its natural order.
Midnight of New Year's Eve marks the end of the evil days and the beginning of the restored world.
The vergel has three main variations.
The most popular variation is found throughout Romania. It's purpose is to find out what type of husband each girl can expect to marry.
On New Year's Eve girls (only) gather at an appointed house. The leader of the vergel is called ursitoare, after the three ursitoare, who in Romanian mythology appear three nights after a child is born to determine the course of the infant's life.
The leader places ten objects on the table — bread, a cup of water, a piece of coal, salt, pepper, a ring, a knife, a comb, a hairbrush, and a stone, — along with ten bowls placed upside down.
Each girl of marriageable age takes a turn and leaves the room. The ursitoare then hides the objects under the bowls. When the girl reenters the room, she chooses one of the upside down bowls. Whatever object is beneath the bowl indicates the type of man she will marry:
- Bread. He will be healthy and pleasant, like a loaf of fresh bread.
- Water. He will be a good husband, but only if the girl treats him well.
- Coal. He will be dark and handsome.
- Salt. He will make her life pleasant.
- Pepper. He will be a good husband, but subject to periodic anger.
- Ring. He will be a young man from her own village.
- Knife. He will be an impulsive husband.
- Comb. He will be a good husband, but sometimes too tough.
- Hairbrush. He will be an older man from beyond the forest.
- Stone. She will not marry.
This variation is practiced in the mountain villages of Moldavia and Bucovina. It's purpose is to get to know better those who might become relatives through marriage and to predict the amount of luck for the coming year.
On New Year's Eve the parents of girls of marriageable age meet together. The man who hosts the vergel gathers all the necessary items, one of which is always a wine jar.
At 11 o'clock at night, the host announces that the vergel is starting and places a bowl of water on a clean, white tablecloth. Each person is then given a small object such as a button, a ring, a key, a knife, an ear ring, or some such item.
Rememberbing which object is theirs, each person places the object in the bowl of water. They then ask a child (who had been in the other room) to stand by the bowl for the next phase of the ritual.
A man, called the vergelator, strikes the bowl of water with a green branch and pronounces various wishes for luck and prosperity. He also names the saint who will act as the "guardian angel" over the wish. After each wish, the child takes one of the objects out of the water.
The "owner" of the retrieved object will obtain all the blessings of the pronounced wish during the coming year.
After everyone has received their "wish," the water is replaced by wine. Then after a few drinks, jokes and legends are told and the people dance until the morning.
The purpose of the third variation is simply to party. Young unmarried men are the primary participants of this New Year's Eve vergel. But unmarried girls, chaperoned by her parents, also attend.
The girls and their mothers bring cakes, pies, nuts, apples, or fried chicken. When they enter the house, they make a toast to the others who have already gathered.
Then everyone dances until the morning.
Since many of the customs continue on past midnight of New Year's Eve, you should also read about the traditions and customs of New Year's day.
At midnight candles and bonfires are extinguished and then relit to symbolize the arrival of the new year.
Purify Cattle and People
To purify their cattle, villagers pass them through fire. To purify themselves, they jump over bonfires or bathe in the river.
Bad Smells Repel Evil
Wood pitch or other bad-smelling objects are burned to drive away evil spirits. People smear garlic on themselves, the family, their animals, and their doorsills.
Peasants don't sleep on New Year's Eve lest they become lazy during the new year.
One of the reasons for not sleeping is because the sky is believed to open during the night. But of course, only those who have been good can witness this miracle.
The beasts of the field and of the forest are able to talk to each other on New Year's Eve. But you have to be careful not to listen to them lest you put yourself in danger of dying.
Dream of Husbands
Girls place basil leaves under their tongue before going to sleep in order to dream about their future husband.
Fruit Trees Threatened
Young children gather around fruit trees that didn't bear any fruit this season. They symbolically threaten to cut down the unfruitful trees if they don't bear fruit again next year.
Stare at Fireplace
Old men stare into the fireplace in an attempt to discern the new year's weather in the burned oak or beech woods.
Salt in Onion Leaves
Often onion leaves are used for the same purpose. Twelve onion leaves are filled have full of salt. Each leaf is then associated with one of the twelve months.
The next morning the onion leaves are "read." If the salt is wet, the corresponding month will be rainy. If the salt is dry, the corresponding month will be dry. And if the salt is partially dry and wet, then the corresponding month will be capricious.
After a log has burned coals are gathered (all the coals must be from the same type of wood). The pieces of coal are then placed on the hearth and associated with a specific type of grain (wheat, for example) to be planted.
The next mornign the pieces of coal are "read." If the coal has turned to ashes, the corresponding grain will grow well. If the coal is still intact, the corresponding grain will not grow. And if the coal is partially ashes, the bread will be scarce.
If there is a full moon on New Year's Eve, the following year will be a rich one.
Treasures Burn Bright
People believe that buried treasure can be seen burning brightly during the night. However, you must wait until after midnight to safely dig them up.
To help American readers, the following pronunciation guide to Romanian words used above is provided. The sounds shown are only approximations, however.
- Bucovina. Boo-koh-vee-nah.
- Moldavia. Mohl-dah-vyah.
- Ursitoare. Oor-see-twahr-reh.
- Vergel. Vehr-jehl.
- Vergelator. Vehr-jeh-lah-tohr.