Some of Our Customs

Attache, Roumanian Legation, Washington, D. C.

THEY say Roumanians are superstitious, but those who know us better realize our customs are not the result of superstitious ignorance but of faithful observance of deep rooted traditions made sacred by the centuries and handed down from generation to generation by our forefathers. We are largely a nation of peasants and have not forgotten the customs of our ancestors, and though we were converted to Christianity we still maintain many of our pagan beliefs and rituals. After all, they form the background of Roumanian character, our very soul, our strength. It is our proud boast that Roumania never completely surrendered to any invader but has kept its national character through the ages. We hold that racial unity sacred, and when travellers, rushing through Roumania, speak of us as a nation far behind the trend of civilization, we can afford to smile at them. Why should we crave an artificial life, which would take away from us our souls?

From birth to death our customs are hallowed by tradition. When a peasant child is born, three invisible women, we believe, are present to decide his fate. We are a fatalistic race, and believe that the day one sees the light his or her life is already predestined. The day of birth, too, has influence on future life; a bright, sunny day predicts a life without the clouds of sorrow; a child born on Sunday will have a happy life. Of all the days of the week, Wednesday is the worst for a birthday. The newborn babe should be baptized as soon as possible into the Christian faith. A godfather and godmother must stand for the baby to pledge that the child shall be brought up according to church standards.

The mother is the guiding spirit of the first "seven years" at home. A girl is taught the art of carpet weaving and making embroideries. Boys are given the care of small flocks of geese or sheep. While the girl grows up indoors, the boy is out in the open air most of the time. This accounts for the rugged appearance of the peasant boys and the frail daintiness of the girls' looks.

At seven, according to the compulsory education system of Roumania, every child must go to school. They must have at least five years of grammar school, after which they are allowed to stay at home if they do not care to go to higher schools of learning.

To stay at home, of course, means to commence hard work as soon as strength permits. At ten they can be taken to the fields to work with their parents. It is the beginning of a life of hardship—the life of the tillers of the soil, whose working day begins before sunrise and ends with the sunset.

With adolescence comes romance, and romance in Roumania begins around the village well, where the youths gather at evening and the girls come, as in biblical days, to draw their pitcher of water. There, away from the restraining glance of their parents, they talk to one another.

The marriage ceremony is a complex of old customs, based on the ancient Latin tradition that a bride should be a stolen girl. It comes to us from the time the Romans invaded the Sabine settlements and ravished their most beautiful daughters. On the wedding day the bridegroom, attended by his best friends, rides to the home of his bride. They surround her house and after a volley of guns, simulating a battle, take the girl away to the bridegroom's house. The feast which follows the wedding lasts for two or three days, during which open house is kept, and food and wine is served to all callers. Everyone, who comes will bring a gift.

There is no honeymoon. As soon as the celebration is over man and wife go back to their daily tasks.

As a general rule a young man marries when he can afford to take his wife into a new house, built by himself. A Roumanian peasant house is a simple dwelling, visually with no more than two rooms. The owner builds it of his own material, and generally without anyone's help. He is its architect, contractor, engineer, and mason. He carves the wood, he plasters the walls, he puts thatch on the roof. Later his wife does the interior decoration, and always in simple style. On whitewashed walls she hangs richly colored carpets. On the eastern wall will hang the icons and a burning oil light—the eternal sacred fire for the pagan gods, now transformed into an offering to the Christian saints.

When at last death comes, it is accepted with resignation as the will of God. The Roumanian peasant believes in survival beyond the grave and provides the dead with sustenance for the after life. Food and money are given to the poor so that God may in return give to the dead what he may need in his second life. A cake of soap, a comb, and other little things are put into the coffin, and a silver coin is placed in the hand of the dead to pay his toll at the gate of the underworld. In this way the tradition of crossing the Styx has been kept alive.

These customs, and many others, are woven into the peasant's daily life. There is nothing which happens for which he does not have an explanation handed down to him for centuries by his forefathers. As in the Greek mythology of ancient times, Roumanian tradition attributes every phenomenon to the will of some invisible and imaginary being. The thunder is nothing but the cart of Saint Eli rolling over the clouds. The lightning is God's whip.

And back of this simple and beautiful life, with its hallowed traditions and pure faith, there stands as its framework Roumania, with its fields, with its mountains, with the Danube flowing through to the Black Sea.

A Street in Bucharest, 1843