Being too little to join the groups going carolling, I only watched them performing and tried to learn the music and certain lyrics by heart to be able to become one of the group members one day.
I remember the Little Plough or “Plugușorul” (in Romanian) was one of the most important moments of the winter break. My elder relatives used to rehearse days and days to make their best with the performance in order to fulfil an important duty. It was their responsibility to pass the tradition to the next generation. There were no written texts or music notes, just oral tradition, which I was part of. Today as an adult I must admit I have not accomplished my duty to pass the tradition around me. There is still plenty of time to do that and perhaps in a modern manner with the new electronic devices…
The Little Plough is a very ancient fertility rite that takes place on New Years’ Day. In my village teenagers and children, dressed in traditional costumes and holding a whip and bells visited people and greeted them allegorically with a story about the work of the field, from the ploughing to the kneading and baking of the bread. The entire rite was accompanied by a sound background which was produced by the bellowing of a friction drum called bull or “buhai”, in Romanian. Getting the little plough in your yard meant luck for the year that has just started.
I became a member of a little plough group when I was about seven. That already meant a thoughtful exercise which I enjoyed a lot, not only because it was funny and rewarding spending a full day going from house to house, but also because we got in return presents which I was very proud of in front of my family.
I also remember the Goat custom, which was actually a dance of a masked man who represented a goat. The goat as such symbolised the fertility and therefore was again linked to the prosperity and well-being of the house hosts, if they welcomed the group to perform in their yard. I happened to see people refusing groups entering their yards, for some reasons. While clattering regularly the wooden jaws, the goat jumped, jerked, turned round and bended. I have never played a goat as this was not among my favourite customs, I must admit.
“Sorcova” was a bouquet used for New Year’s wishes. We greeted people and wished them a happy New Year while touching them lightly with this bouquet. The lyrics talked about health, fertility and wealth, which is the main message that we conveyed to the hosts in the morning of the first day of the New Year. We wished to the hosts to blossom like an apple-tree and a pear-tree, to live and stay healthy and to be as strong as a stone. As a reward for our efforts we got cakes, honeycombs, biscuits, pretzels, candies and money sometimes.
Another custom which was not among my favourite traditions was the Bear. The Bear was never performed by people from our village. There were people living in the mountains who used to visit our village and perform the Bear. The bear was played by a young man wearing the coat of a killed animal that was decorated with red tassels on its ears, on his head and shoulders. The mask and the bear’s head were made out of wood decorated in such a way to imitate a bear. The performance was actually a dance on the music of some drums and pipes.
The season of winter festivals closed on 7 January when we celebrated St. John (Sf. Ioan). We were ready to start a new school term shortly after.
I missed the winters of my childhood. They were rich in snow and were a sign of purity. We were told that winter meaning was to refresh and reinforce nature and people, so that they can both start their work in spring with new energies.
Our house was located somewhere at the entrance of the village and there were no other houses in front of us, on the other side of the road. From our windows, we saw nothing else but a never-ending white blanket in winter and a never-ending grass carpet in summer. No movements, no life, just a frozen white or green landscape, often turned by the sun into a huge and glittering silent land.
I still remember the white huge surroundings, which helped me perceive no limits and no barriers while dreaming. I imagined our village as the centre of the world, but connected with other villages and people far away, behind the horizon. I was somehow proud to place myself and my village in the middle of a gigantic circle.