I was told that I enjoyed my first trip outside the village when I was two. There was a terrible winter and my family needed to go to a wedding. My father carried me on his shoulders. The wedding involved our relatives from my mother side. They lived two villages away, so that required to cross another village and walk about six kilometres.
I remember that going there was always exciting. My uncles and aunts were very kind and always ready to make our stay there a pleasant and unforgettable break. I still recall those days as my best childhood memories in a small village where I enjoyed a lot of time off with my cousins and their families.
Apart from the lack of electricity, nothing bothered me there. Our place was equipped with a modest electric installation, which sometimes came down and we needed to use gaslight lamps or candles. But such events happen even today!
It was rather annoying to stay in the dark or have some poor lightening around us at my grandparents place. This discomfort was somewhat compensated by memorable evening moments when our grandmother used to share old tales. That was a challenging imagination exercise which I enjoyed a lot. We listened to her tales and we tried to imagine everything she said with the help of the room darkness. The walls served as a sort of projector, where our movements within the room were transposed by the poor lights into strange combination of shadow forms and shapes on the walls. That was a way to give a face to a number of mysterious characters that were part of the tales.
My grandparents’ village was smaller, so was the people community. I managed to get to know immediately all the relatives and, believe me, that was very easy since each of them was associated to a sort of gift they always prepared for us. In my mind that place was similar to a kind of paradise: no daily duties, no homework, just lazy days full of joy and games.
The customs and traditions of the village were somewhat similar, though I was able to notice some differences. I was ready to understand the differences and take note of similarities. My parents told us that we have to follow the rules and apply them consistently there even if we are not at our place. For instance, when entering the church the boys had to take off their caps or when eating white bread one should be careful not to spread around any bread crumps, which would have been a lack of politeness in front of the others eating next to you.
One of the most memorable moments happened during the evening, when everyone gathered around the table. In the winter that happened earlier, at about seven o’clock. That was the “family” moment when everyone shared his or her work accomplishments. In the summer, the “family” moment happened later, at about nine o’clock as everyone was busy with the work either far away working the field, in the garden, or accompanying the cow on her way back from the grazing ground.
The winter holidays season was actually open on 6 December, when Saint Nicholas came to each house. His coming announces the beginning of the winter holidays, the Christmas and the New Year.
On the evening of 5 December, the boots were polished in every home. People usually placed the boots near the entrance door, waiting for the presents. Saint Nicholas took care of each child. He left a little present into each peer of boots. We often asked who Saint Nicholas is and we never got an answer.
My grandmother used to tell us that Christmas is also the time when one needs to forgive and ask for forgiveness. We were not too religious, but I perceived Christmas as the time when one has to make a sort of review of the achievements, failures and a recap of the behaviour over the passing year. That way everyone was entitled to make a New Year resolution as soon as it arrived.
Christmas time was not only about sharing and giving but also about people’s Christmas mood. For a while they forgot about the work and found some time to enjoy life, have some joy around, eat good food and follow the village customs: going to the church, carolling the village priest and teacher, meeting each other, sharing food and drinks and taking part in the village’s customs and traditions, which required a little bit of logistics.
Carolling was a custom that I enjoyed a lot. It happened on Christmas’ Eve when we went carolling. I was a member of a group going carolling and the preparation implied long debates on choosing the repertory and long hours of rehearsal. We performed carols going from a house to another and we got in return sweets, fruit and even money.
The real carolling happened on Christmas evening and night. Young people and adults gathered in well-organized groups with a leader. They performed their repertory in the yard of a house in front of the house host. When they ended their performance the host invited the carollers in the house to share a special meal and presents.
Christmas’ Eve is also the day when the Christmas tree is decorated. We did not have modern ornaments. Everything was made out of raw materials, textiles, wood and paper. Very often the rooms were decorated with fir tree branches.
Santa Claus always came when we were sleeping. Under the fir tree we found, a day after, cakes and something to wear. Our mother and grandmother took care of that by spending some nights knitting something for all of us.
I noticed that our parents never got Christmas presents. We often asked them why and they used to answer that the presents for them would be our respect. We used to light candles and we got ready to enjoy the Christmas meals: force-meal rolls in cabbage or in vine leaves, sausages and cozonac, a Romanian Christmas cake.
Christmas day and the following two days were dedicated to the Carol of the Star, where in groups and holding a stick with a star decorated shape on top we went from house to house and sang. The Star song told stories inspired by the Scriptures. The Carol of the Star was a way of greeting the house host on the occasion of Christmas.
I cannot forget the joy that people had on their faces at Christmas, which came after a long period of fasting. We were not forced to fast, we were actually allowed to eat cheese, meat, milk and eggs. Our grandparents said that children cannot be judged by God as children are children and therefore they do not have enough strength to fast. Perhaps that is why Christmas time was one of the most awaited moment, as people could enjoy excellent food and drinks, following a tough fast, where they had only vegetables, preparing their bodies somehow for a rich food period at Christmas.
I remember that people were happy with their situation. Their dreams were limited to the village perimeter: perhaps to buy an animal or to build an extension to their house or barn, or to darn a carpet or sew something to decorate the house walls.
No one dreamt of going to build a life somewhere else, except for girls when got married to boys from neighbouring villages. Any cities were far away and I remember that any reference to a city was made only when someone got sick and needed to go to a city to look for a doctor. For minor diseases there were home remedies made out of plants and different other natural materials. Each adult woman learned at home how to heal someone suffering of a minor disease. That was part of her basic education at home.
Despite a modest life, with very limited resources, people mastered the way of managing the food produced by themselves, making provisions for winter, getting wood to heat their houses and making their clothes by themselves. They looked happy as they enjoyed their life as a present. They were always prepared to look ahead and less to what they left behind them. I must admit that this is a sort of positive attitude I inherited from my ancestors.