Italian and romanian customs and traditions


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Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado “Don Giovanni Minzoni”

San Pietro Vernotico(Br) – Italia


Romanian and Italian customs and traditions are probably the most varied and traditional in the whole of Europe, so many experts say.

You will be captivated by the beauty of the regional costumes which you may see passing through the different areas of the two countries.

The Romanian and the Italian people experienced many foreign invasions ,but they tried to preserve their culture , so over the centuries , people crystallized their own popular culture and preserved its spirituality by keeping its faith and culture untouched.

Folklore is the body of expressive culture, including tales, music, dance, legends, oral history, proverbs ,popular believes ,customs.

The customs and the traditions of these two countries are as old as the people itself and can be divided into family customs , calendar based customs and religious customs are related to the three major life changes: birth , marriage and death. They represent a “triptych” marked by the three major life changes :birth , marriage and death.

Death represents the transition from the material life to the spiritual life of one's ancestors. Marriage is considered mainly as the transition from youth to adulthood. Birth signifies the establishment of a new biological life.

The ceremony of the "first bath" is one of the most important Italian and Romanian traditions.

In Romania only the women can assist in the bathing of the newborn child, and the oldest woman related to the father of the baby is in charge of the event. Fresh, clean water enriched with flowers, money, honey and milk are thought to purify and join the newborn to the family.

The second important moment related to birth is the Christening of the child, a ceremony in which the child is named. In the Eastern Orthodox church and in the Catholic one , the "God parents" of the child have an important ceremonial function.

Marriage is considered mainly as the transition from youth to adulthood.

The wedding is a performance with well-established rituals both in the two countries. Song, dance and ceremonial costumes all have a detailed role in the wedding ceremony.

The dress and hairdressing of the bride is also important. She wears a ceremonial costume and flowers in her hair.

The entrance of the Romanian bride into the community of married women is marked by a change of her hair style, and the covering of her head with a scarf. The scarf is a symbol of the married women. This ceremony is also accompanied by a song.

In Romania the wedding meal provides an opportunity for singing, dancing and listening to epic hero songs. Dance forms, especially for the young people, are an essential part of the wedding, as well as the birth ceremonies. One dance, called a "hora" marks the ­decisive moments of the ceremonial. It is a seal of the marriage contract.

The above wedding ceremonials last for three days. The final day ends with a "dance of masks."

For good luck Italian tradition calls for the bride to have five things with her on her wedding day:

  • Something old: this symbolizes the life she is leaving behind and the importance of the past, which must not be forgotten in her transition to her new life.

  • Something new: this symbolizes the new life that is about to begin, representing new goals and the changes she will bring with her.

  • Something borrowed: this represents the love of the people dear to her, who will be by her side as she moves from her old life to her new one.

  • Something blue: in ancient times, blue was the colour of purity, and it was also the colour of wedding gowns.
  • Something she has received as a gift: this is to remind her of the people she loves.

The bride wears a veil to hide her face from jealous spirits. Tearing the veil is considered good luck. Sunday marriages are believed to be the luckiest. It is considered bad luck for a bride to wear any gold, on the day she is married, until wedding rings are exchanged. Symbolic foods for fertility and for good luck are “confetti” , candies with almonds. They have to be white and always come in odd numbers (generally five) to represent the qualities that must always be part of the life of the new couple:.
Funeral ceremonies are similar, for such aspects, in Italy and Romania.

The preparation of the funeral consists of greeting the relatives, making the funeral objects, such as the coffin, the vial that will cover the body, the funeral candle and the carriage with bulls, as well as the preparation of the food to be served to relatives and friends during the meal after the funeral. During all of the funeral proceedings, there is a wake organized for the deceased. A body is never left alone, and those present at the wake tell stories about the deceased. A group of old women mourn the body as well.

The calendar-based customs are divided by the four seasons. Winter is designated as the season of rest, gatherings and spiritual expressions. Spring represents the rejuvenation of nature and the beginning of the farming season. It is the season of birth and blooming. Summer is dominated by the busy farming season. Autumn is the season of wealth, the harvest and beginning preparations for the long winter ahead.

Mărţişor is the traditional Spring celebration of the beginning of the Spring in Romania and Moldova on the 1st of March. Its beginnings are still a mystery, but it is usually said that it originated in Rome, because New Year's Eve was celebrated on the 1st of March, the month of the god Mars. He was the god of agriculture and signified the rebirth of nature. The flower and nature celebrations were consecrated to him. It is said that the Mărţişor originated from the Ancient Roman culture, where March (Martius) was the month of the war god Mars with a double role: both protector of agriculture and of war. This duality of symbols is kept in the colours of the Mărţişor: white and red, meaning peace and war (it might also symbolize winter and spring).

Nowadays, men offer women a talisman object also called Mărţişor, consisting of a jewel or a small decoration like a flower, an animal, etc., tied to a red and white string. However, giving a little nickel tied to a red and white string is an old custom and was originally designated for both men and women. It was believed that the one who wears the red and white string will be powerful and healthy for the year to come. The decoration is a symbol of the coming spring. A woman wears it pinned to her blouse on this day and up to two weeks after.

Paparuda” is a Romanian rain ritual , probably of pagan origin, performed in the spring and in times of severe drought. A girl, wearing a skirt made of fresh green knitted vines and small branches, sings and dances through the streets of the village, stopping at every house, where the hosts pour water on her. She is accompanied by the people of the village who dance and shout on the music. The custom has attributed a specific type of dance and a specific melody. The name is probably derived from “Perperuna”, which in its turn is a Slavic (south Slavic) goddess, is a divinity from the local Thracian substratum.

The 8th of March is celebrated in both countries.

In Romania children usually give presents to their mothers with a card or a bunch of flowers and of course best wishes. It may be not a big gift but mothers are happy and proud of their children .The gift represents the bound between mother and child.

In Italy the “Women’s day” sees men presenting bunches of mimosa to the special women in their life.

Father’s Day”. on the 19th of March (Saint Joseph ‘s) and “Mother’s Day” on the second week of May are celebrated as well.

Easter , “Pasqua” in Italian, has its share of rituals and traditions in Spring season.

Solemn religious processions are held in many towns on the Friday or Saturday before Easter and sometimes on Easter Sunday. Many churches have special statues of the Virgin and Jesus that play a big part in the processions. The statues may be paraded through the city or displayed in the main square. Parade participants are often dressed in traditional ancient costumes.

Olive branches are often used instead of or along with palm fronds in the processions and to decorate churches.

Priests often visit shops and homes to bless them on the Saturday before Easter.

While Easter mass will be held in every church in Italy, the biggest and most popular mass is held by the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica. On Good Friday, the Pope Celebrates the Via Crucis in Rome near the Colosseum. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as the station of the cross are described in several languages. At the end, the Pope gives a blessing.

The Monday following Easter, “La Pasquetta” is also a holiday throughout Italy.

In Romania, the Sunday before Easter Sunday is called “Flowers Sunday”. On that day, a special celebration takes place for all who have names associated with flowers.

Easter is the second largest religious celebration in Romania. A six-week fast precedes the holiday, and the rituals of traditional food preparation resemble those of Christmas. Lamb, cheese cake, coloured eggs and feta cheese make an appearance in every Easter dinner.

The craftsmanship of dyeing the eggs at Easter is an ancient tradition with Romanians. The belief that eggs represent the source of life led to the relation of eggs to the rites of the revival of nature, and eventually Easter. Romanians traditionally painted Easter Eggs red and they decorated them ornately. Over time, other colours were used and this custom was transformed into an art form and expert skill. Today, real and wooden eggs are painted with intricate designs, or decorated all over with various coloured beads, and are available throughout the year.

One of the most important Summer customs in Romania is “Sanzienele” celebrated on the 23rd of June. This day represents a ritual honouring the beginning of summer .

The night of 10 August, every year, the eyes of the Italians in the world address hopeful to the sky, in order to pick to the flight one falling star.

In Romagna, the day of Saint Lorenzo, someone must be dipped seven times in sea, in order to purify themselves and in order to attract himself fortune and happiness.

Every year on July 2 and August 16, the beautiful medieval city of Siena comes alive for one of the world's most breathtaking folk festivals, “il Palio”. The event is known around the globe as a totally unique horse race, but it is much, much more. Preparations go on all year long in Siena.

Palio' is the name given in Italy to an annual athletic contest, very often of a historical character, pitting the neighbourhoods of a town or the hamlets of a commune against each other. Typically they are fought in costume and commemorate some event or tradition of the Middle Ages, and thus often involve horse racing , archery, jousting, crossbow shooting, and similar medieval sports. Once purely a matter of local rivalries, many have now become events staged with an eye to visitors and foreign tourists.The most famous is undoubtedly the Palio di Siena.

In Autumn season , the harvest time also includes a feast to recognize the craft of Romanian wine-making with sweet, freshly squeezed wine and spicy smoked ham being served at that time.

Also the Italians have customs related with to harvest, Vendemmia (grape harvest) in September.

In October it’s the time of the chestnut harvest, and traditionally Chestnut festival occur in the villages from October to November, especially in Tuscany, Lazio, Campania, Calabria, the Alps and the Apennines.

Turin's Salone Del Gusto is one of the world's biggest food fairs, and takes place toward the end of the month, as suppliers from all over the world set up stall.

Cremona's Torrone festival is dedicated to nougat, which Cremona claims originated in the town. You can see artists and musicians, tumblers and jugglers and taste mediaeval dishes and drinks.

The truffle (tartufo), is celebrated in the National Fair of the White Truffle in the Marche town of Acqualagna. The area produces two thirds of the national crop (around 60 tonnes). The fair runs from on last Sunday of October and the first three of November.

In both the two countries, Winter celebrations are related to Christmas ,one of the most beloved holidays of all.

On the 6th of January , the Italians celebrate Epiphany (Befana).

Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the Magi. Legend has it that the wise men asked an old woman for shelter. The woman (La Befana) refused, and has been wondering the planet ever since looking for the baby Jesus. Epiphany Eve (5th January) sees a good witch flying from rooftop to rooftop with gifts for children who have been good.

A similar holiday in Romania is celebrated on the 6th of December, when St. Nicholas brings small gifts to the young children who have polished their shoes and placed them in front of a window in their home.

The Italians like to spend Christmas Day and Capodanno (The New Year Day) in the family with the beloved ones : children and relatives playing cards or bingo or singing carols.

Christmas carols, traditional food and decorated trees are part of the Christmas traditions in both countries. Every Italian village will display a Presepio (Nativity Scene). It derives from a representation from early Christian Italy, found upon a sarcophagus dating from 342AD. The Italians can claim to have invented the Nativity Scene which derives from elements of the Bible. Saint Francis of Assisi took up the theme to Celebrate Christmas in 1223 and then it spread worldwide.

The biggest celebration of the year in Italy takes place in Rome. Every Christmas Eve, the Pope gives Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Square .

The Christmas Eve speech is broadcast to dozens of countries. Christmas Day sees the Urbi et Orbi message and blessing by the Pope in Saint Peter’s Square at midday.

The traditonal Italian food includes ‘struffoli’(honey balls), ‘zucchine in agrodolce’ (sweet and sour zucchini), ‘spumetti’(chocolate-hazelnut Merinques), ‘panettone’(of Milanese origin) and ‘pandoro’(a speciality of the province of Verona).All Christmas sweets, as a rule ,contain nuts and almonds .Peasant folklore theorizes that to eat nuts favours the fertility of the earth .In ancient Rome honey was offered this time of year so that the new year might be sweet.

On the 31st of December ,Italian people celebrate the coming of the New Year with stuffed pig legs, zampone, Lentils (which represent money) are served alongside, promising riches and good luck for the coming year.

Singing Christmas carols is a very important part of the Romanian Christmas festivities.

Many carollers walk in the streets of the towns and villages holding in their hands a star made of board and paper with Biblical scenes painted in watercolour. On the first Christmas day, kids walk in the streets of snow covered towns and villages. The tradition in Romania is for children to go from house to house singing carols and reciting poetry and legends throughout the Christmas season. The leader carries a large wooden star called "steaua", which is covered with shiny paper and decorated with bells and coloured ribbon. A picture of the Holy Family is pasted in the star's centre, and the entire creation is attached to a broomstick or stout pole. Once home, the festivities continue with a traditional Romanian feast, which likely includes dishes such as "pasca", "cozonac" spiced minced lamb or lamb roast, cheeses and sponge cake.

On New Year's Eve it is believed that no person should spend the night alone, as it is the night when the new year, represented by a baby, is born--and the old year, represented by the tired old man, is replaced. On December 31, villagers carry a plough from house to house in a New Year's greeting, wishing a "prosperous new year" to neighbours. On January 1, children will offer rice or wheat to neighbours, throwing the seeds over the threshold, in a wish for prosperity and "good sowing."

Another folk tradition is of the "Plugusorul", whom appear in all villages and even the most cosmopolitan cities during the period between Christmas and New Year's day. Nobody is quite certain how the practice originated, but it is an amusing, living legend. Traditionally costumed characters crack whips as loud as cannons, play symphonies on ancient percussion instruments accompanied by accordions in the streets and in courtyards. The whole intent seems to be making lots of sound to scare away evil ghosts of the past year, to bring good luck and hope into the new year. Like many Romanian myths, the Plugusorul have retained their mystery over thousands of years.

Dragobete is a traditional Romanian holiday, celebrated on the 24th February. Dragobete was the son of Baba Dochia .The day is known as "the day when the birds are getting engaged". This day is supposed to protect one from the fever which produces shivers and illness. If the weather allows it, girls and boys are supposed to pick snowdrops or other early spring plants for someone they are courting. Dragobete is also known as being the day of lovers for Romanians.A common belief (in some parts of Romania) during this celebration is that if one steps over his/her partner's foot, he/she will have the dominating role in their relationship. The usual activities for this custom vary from region to region.

The Carnival of Venice is the most important and magnificent of Venetian celebrations in winter time. It is an appreciated cocktail of tradition, spectacle, history and transgression set in an unique city, a festival that attracts thousands of people each year from around the world.

The Carnival has ancient origins, a celebration that greets the passing of winter into spring, a period in which everything is apparently connected, including the illusion of the more humble classes becoming similar to the powerful ones, since everyone is disguised behind a mask. The Carnival of Venice officially began in 1926, when the Senate of the Republic authorized the carnival with an edict declaring the day before Lent as a day of celebration. After a break of almost two centuries, the traditions of the carnival were recovered and the event has been held with great success each year.

Each year has a different, underlying theme for the carnival, which is developed under various points of view, from one of culture to that of pure spectacle. For two weeks, St. Mark’s Square, the theatres, streets, squares and public buildings become the protagonists of numerous initiatives and shows. As well as Venice, carnivals are also held inland, for example in Mestre, Treviso and on the Brenta Riviera, where you can take part in beautiful allegoric carriage parades, which only take place during the last weekend of the carnival.

For all Italian and Romanian celebrations, songs and dances are essential components.

The “Arcan” is the name of a custom, and of the associated popular dance and melody, of Romania.

The dance is traditionally performed by men (dressed in traditional Romanian costumes), and takes place around a burning bonfire. The word “arcan” also refers to the step that the men perform while dancing around the fire: the right foot steps to the side (or double stamps as the dance builds momentum), the left foot crosses behind, the right foot steps to the side again, and the left foot is hopped in front of the dancer with a bent knee; the dance is performed with the men's arms upon one another's shoulders, and is part of the larger group of circle dances called “Hora” .

The reason for this apparent "violent" character of the dance is its initiating value, of entering into the next step of the social pyramid, by which boys become marriageable young men.

The “Pizzica” (pinch) or better the “pizzica pizzica” is the traditional expression of Salentine dancing in Italy.

It is a dance and a musical genre with a frenetic rhythm that was once linked closely to the phenomenon of tarantismo. It was believed that some people, most often women, who demonstrated various recurring psychological symptoms (very different from epilepsy), had been bitten by a “taranta”, a mysterious spider whose existence has never been proved.

These women could be cured, at least temporarily, by music with a frenetic rhythm, the “pizzica” in point of fact, that sent them into a trance, dancing to exhaustion and performing actions such as attacking people dressed in a particular colour.

Like many traditions of a magical-superstitious kind, there was an attempt to Christianize the ritual and Saint Paul became the patron of the “tarantati”, able to heal the afflicted women.

In the Greek Salentine region and in the area of the Salento with traditions of Greek origin, the phenomenon of “tarantismo” and the dance (or the style of dance) called “pizzica pizzica” were deeply rooted (in Galatina Greek was spoken until recent times) and in some way are still even if in different forms.

After a period when the “pizzica” was being isolated, because it was considered an element of cultural backwardness and for this reason reserved for the outcasts of society, beginning in the 1970s the musical style was rediscovered and now it is one of the most popular dance rhythms of the young. The Salento region and also a cultural link with the other southern regions of Italy with similar musical phenomena (tarantella from Gargano, Naples, Calabria...).


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