Wednesday, 19 December 2012


The sounds of the single bell tolling and the drum beating emanate from the beautiful small painted church on the hillside, echoing down through the valley and all of the way around the village.
Those simple sounds announce that it is Sunday, December 2nd, the start of Advent, and it is the first day of a traditional Romanian Orthodox Christmas. For those who still follow the old traditions, and there are many in the village who do, it marks the start of the Advent Fast, which means that no animal products are eaten until the Fast is broken, on the evening of Christmas Eve. No meat, no fish, no poultry, no milk, no eggs, which can't be easy in a society whose basic diet is entirely made up of these items, and who's favourite vegetable is Pork!
The bell and drums will sound each day during Advent, just as they do on every important day in the religious calendar, and they will count each day away as the four weeks progress.
On December 6th, St Nicholas Day, decorations go up, small token gifts are given to those children who have been 'good' throughout the year, and small decorated sticks are given to those who have not been so good. The tradition of the sticks is that those 'not so good' children are symbolically beaten with them to remind them that they still have three weeks left to be good, and maybe still redeem themselves enough to have presents delivered by Mos Craciun (Father Christmas) early on Christmas morning.
The evening of Christmas Eve then is when the traditional Christmas family meal is eaten here in Romania, even for the many who no longer follow the tradition of fasting for four weeks beforehand.
These weeks are also when the ceremony of 'preparing the pig' takes place. It isn't called that at all, but it is the way Romanians talk about it, and even those who live in the City refer to this special family occasion with fondness. Unfortunately that also means that this is the time when we hear the sounds of pigs being slaughtered around the village. It's not nice, but it is over very quickly, and it does help us to understand the reality of things, particularly for those of us who have been used to buying meat in shrink-wrapped plastic from supermarkets and have therefore been able to shut out this essential, but ignored part of the process of getting it there. It's part of 'living a 'real' life', which is often how we describe our lives here. Once the animal is gone it is used to make sausages, it is smoked, parts are minced to make Mici, the skin and fat are dried to make Slănină (which is basically just pig fat eaten as part of the basic diet), and great lumps of meat are smoked and reserved for that ever so important Christmas Eve family meal, and the whole family gather together after the pig is killed to help to prepare each item.
It is wonderful to see and to be a small part of it, as Christmas comes slowly here, and the build up to it is such a busy time. We have been invited a few times to join in, but as yet we haven't been able to, for lots of reasons, but one day we will, and I know we will enjoy it.
It will be no worse than going to a barbecue in The Lebanon, which I have also done, when the first thing that happened was the delivery of two live sheep on the back of a pick-up truck.......first, select your sheep, .......second. slaughter it, I said, it's real life, and it was a great and very very tasty barbecue.
We try our hardest to live our daily lives as our Romanian friends and neighbour's do throughout the year, only occasionally reverting to type and cooking in a traditional English manner (in other words...curry!). The only exception to this being tea, which we just can't give up. We simply can't get good English tea here, so when we do receive the odd packet from our visitors or friends it is a real treat.
However, Christmas is different. Christmas is something that we want to do in the way we have known it for so many years, but it isn't simply a matter of going to the supermarket to buy all we need as we would have done when we lived in England. There are so many more things that we simply can't get here, and it is at this time of year that you realise it most.
So, just like our neighbour's are doing, we have been preparing for it for weeks. We may not have been doing the same things, but in our own way we have been just as busy as they have, and we have gathered everything we need to make our little Christmas perfectly English, but there is so much of it that we have to make for ourselves.
Our first essential is to have logs cut and ready for the fires to keep us warm, all done, and it is very 'unRomanian' of us to be this ready as we often hear the sound of logs being chopped around the village on Christmas day itself.
Our tree is up in our lounge, decorated and looking beautiful. Unfortunately we couldn't afford to buy a real one this year, nor did we have time to go into the forest and fell one, so it's our old artificial tree, but it looks beautiful all the same.
We actually made  a pretty good job of our traditional Christmas last year, without really  trying, but this year we determined ourselves to do it better, much much better.
We have our turkey, in the freezer and waiting for the day, we have potatoes, which we will cook in pork fat to be perfect, golden brown and crispy on the day. We have Carrots and Parsnips, as well as Brussels Sprouts, sadly not home-grown, but next year they will be. 
We can make our own gravy, we can make our own Yorkshire Puddings if we want them (and the other 'alf does make a particularly nice job of them!).
We have a still-in-date unopened jar of Cranberry Sauce and we have a few Christmas Crackers that we saved from last year, so we can wear the silly hats, enjoy the little tokens, read and laugh at the silly jokes and the not-so-wise sayings from within as we eat.
So what else could we possibly want?
It's when you ask yourself that question that you realise that it isn't actually the 'big' items that make the perfect Christmas at all, it's the small additions that just finish things off and make them perfect.
Like stuffing!
How could you eat a Christmas Turkey without stuffing? It just wouldn't be right would it?
And chipolatas to be wrapped in bacon? Where would Christmas be without those?
So we''ll just pop out to the shops and get some Paxo shall we? Oops! No!
Now I am sure that there will be many reading this (at least I hope someone else reads it!) who are good cooks and who will say 'Hey making your own stuffing isn't difficult!', and I am sure you are right, but when you have never done it before it is a daunting prospect. 
Just as it was for me when we created our own cottage garden this year to grow our own produce for the first time. Having never, ever, had any interest in gardening whatsoever in my life, it seemed miraculous to me when this rough patch of ground that we had painstakingly fenced off from our dogs and prepared produced, Spring Onions, Lettuce, Potatoes, Red and White Onions, Garlic and Tomatoes in abundance! I have really caught the bug now and I am so looking forward to Spring arriving early so that we can get on with it again, and I am determined to build a Greenhouse from old windows too!
We managed to make stuffing well last year but had trouble getting the ingredients as fine as we would have liked them to be, as a result we had chunky Sage and Onion stuffing. It was very nice but this year we will do better....why?.....well we  bought a meat grinding machine!!!
Having this marvellous tool in the kitchen has opened our eyes to a whole world of new possibilities. It has a sausage pipe, so the first, obviously, was good old-fashioned English Bangers. 
Hooray! sausages WITHOUT garlic!!!
There they are ready and waiting in the freezer. We got a bit carried away though, we have about 100 of them, of all types, plain pork, pork and herb, pork and leek, etc., and as the other 'alf, (she who must be obeyed in all things) isn't really that fond of sausages it means that John and I have an ample supply to keep us going for a while! We have now found good bacon too, unadulterated with garlic, so Pigs in Blankets, Angels on Horseback, whatever you want to call them are simply no problem this year.
Our stuffing's will be finely minced as well, so who needs Paxo anyway?
There will be three on the menu, Sage and Onion, of course, Chestnut, and a sausage meat stuffing.
We have a Christmas Pudding too, two actually, thanks to a good friend. No cream, but we can make custard OK.
We also have six PG Tips tea bags stashed away, so we have good tea on the day too. These are what remain of a box that a volunteer bought with her at the beginning of December, having heard about our plight. We have been fortunate enough over the last few years to host many wonderful volunteers and guests here, but this lady is very very special. The week she stayed with us was a wonderful one, re-awakening us to the real reasons we are here in Romania. We have all become great, lifelong friends, and one day I will write more about her, but at the moment she is too greatly missed, and I know that if I write as we truly feel then there will only be more tears, as there were on the day she left, and have been occasionally when we have spoken since. Suffice it to say that when she arrived, she bought the beginning of our Christmas with her.
We also have some new but already very good friends and family sending us parcels full of goodies to help our Christmas along, and we are looking forward to their arrival with some excitement. They will have the things that we can't really make in them, including more tea bags,   English biscuits (Ginger Nuts and Custard Creams.....what else?), a few little surprises too I should think, and a bottle of Glenfiddich from a very very generous friend.
Having all those sausages, and having found good bacon, also means that next years weekend treats of a homemade Full English Breakfast are no problem! (And here I was earlier, talking boastfully about trying to live life like a local! Oh well, the occasional treat can't hurt can it?)
Christmas Day then is sorted. We have all of the food we need to make our perfect meal, local wine is excellent and very cheap, and we can also top it up with Ţuică
We'll be in English Christmas heaven for the day, and there's bound to be a daft English, Australian, or American movie on Romanian TV that we can sit and watch as it all goes down in the evening.
Last year, for some reason we don't know, we all woke up at 3.30 a.m. on Christmas Day, just like over-excited children. Having nothing else to do we switched the television on to find a film called 'Malcolm' beginning. It's a fairly odd but amusing Australian movie about some unlikely people who commit a robbery, and it was perfect for that day and time. If we could we would have made it part of all our traditional Christmas's from then on.
However, we then have Boxing Day don't we? It is as an essential part of the traditional English Christmas as the day is itself, and it is the day that provides my favourite meal of cold meats, mashed potatoes, and pickles.
So this is an easy day huh? It's just leftovers.
OK yes, we will have the cold turkey, we have a tin of Ham (only in a tin because this year we couldn't afford the complete leg of smoked Romanian ham that were on sale in the market, but maybe next year). Mashed potatoes are obviously no problem either, but pickles??
Now I have already written at length about pickles and the British love of them on Boxing Day in an earlier Blog, 'Creating The Perfect English Christmas',  and about the fact that to have them we have had to make them, throughout the year, so that they mature sufficiently in the jars to be perfect on the day. So we have chutney, pickled onions, simple pickled vegetables, and most important of all Piccalilli!!! Along with bread and butter it will be great.
Anything that is left over after these feasts will be used to make a pie and also some curry to keep us going into the New Year, or will be shared with our dogs, which is the best way by far to recycle.
So, our Christmas is sorted, and has already started, in  a very very Anglo/Romanian manner, and all of the hard preparation will be worth it, I know.
In the 7 days we have remaining before the big day we have been invited to spend time with many of our friends at their houses in the village. 
December the 21st will also be a special day as we have agreed with a number of friends on Twitter to have a Christmas sing-a-long at 12 midday GMT. We will all be singing along to Slade's 'Merry Christmas Everybody' and then posting links to the videos on  twitter for all to see. As long as the Mayans aren't correct and it isn't the end of the world that day, it should be great fun, and it is a fantastic thing to be able to do with people from all over the world. If you fancy joining in after reading this, just get in touch on Twitter using @HolidayinRomani, it really is  a case of 'the more the merrier'.
We have also been 'told' to be at the village bar on Christmas Eve afternoon by the boss there, Gica, to join in with the singing of traditional carols, (and probably singing a few English ones in return), the drinking of hot Tuica, and lots of general merriment. It is a very very good job though that we have ourselves as prepared as we are already, because I know that spending that afternoon at the bar is very likely to render us incapable of doing anything worthwhile during that evening.
Christmas is so much more of a special occasion when it has to be prepared for and planned in this way, and with all the hard work and effort it entails. Also when it will be spent with genuine friends and neighbour's who do actually care about us and our welfare. Although I know we will greatly miss our parents, brothers, sisters, grown up children and grand-children and British friends on the day, I also know that our British Christmas could not be any more special than it will be here, in a tiny village in the heart of Transylvania, Romania. 
It would be fantastic if one day, somehow, someway, we could get them all over here so that they can experience this special time in this very special place for themselves, but we will talk to them all on the day anyway so that we can feel that little bit closer.

What could make Christmas more perfect then than this? Well everyone's dream is to have a white Christmas isn't it? Sorry to boast, but we already have that too! About 8 inches of snow lying and more to come!

So may I wish all of those of you who read this as good a Christmas as we will have, particularly those of you who will be away from family as we are.

Craciun Fericit!!!

Steve, Alison, and John

For more information about why three Brits should be crazy enough to be here in this tiny village in a remote part of Romania (Transylvania) please have a look at our websites and or just read some of the earlier Blogs!

1 comment:

  1. Where are the Jacobs crackers, stinky cheeses and port?

    There's a Wittard in Bucharest now so you could get some tea sent out to you (although I don't suppose they have PGs) by post.

    There used to be a company called who stocked lots of British products and imported them to Romania. I don't know if they're still going - their site seems a bit cranky - or if they'd deliver to Hunedoara. Their prices always seemed a little 'piperate' though.

    Va doresc si voua un craciun fericit!


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