When you have lived in enough places, trying to find the differences between countries is difficult, it is much easier to find the similarities.
Here are some Romanian New Years Traditions according to the Romanian weekly, Magazin:
New Year’s fish.
Magazin informs us that Romanians may celebrate the New Year with a traditional New Year’s meal, including trout (păstrăv).
French-speaking countries also have special new years meals, with the seafood in New Orleans being the most famous part of the Reveillon celebrations.
Portuguese also like to eat fish on holidays, but New Year’s does not seem to be fishier than other days. On Three Kings Day, they have a cake in Portugal called Bolo Rei, or King Cake. This includes a dangerous game where you can find hard objects including a bean and a toy. If you get the toy, you get to wear a paper crown. If you get the bad one, you have to buy next year’s cake. Some Portuguese ex-pats end up eating the cake on New Year’s or Christmas instead.
Cakes and fish are also prevalent in other Western European countries.
Eating twelve grapes at midnight, one for every month of the year.
I hear the Spanish have a similar tradition. In Spain, they apparently use canned grapes. There is some debate on whether it is during the countdown or when the bells sound, but maybe it depends on the region.
Magazin claims that the Portuguese do that with figs. Some older Portuguese remember a similar tradition. (I remember corn nuts and a yellow flat bean or pulse that you only get at the Portuguese shop). I have read elsewhere that it is raisins, but in remote areas, they may still eat figs.
I would not attempt it though, figs are pretty big and hard to eat quickly.
The French also use grapes. However, they turn them into juice first, sometimes letting the grapes ferment, because it is easier to drink grapes than eat them.
To be blunt, this tradition of mistletoe is dated. I don’t know if it was ever that big, despite being mentioned in Magazin. Many more people around Cluj buy flowers than mistletoe.
Americans and Brits have a similar traditions, at least according to the movies and music.
In Cluj, you can buy mistletoe from wondering merchants who come in from the suburbs. I had never seen mistletoe in real life, so I didn’t know what it was. One of the merchants followed me for a while, and I ended up buying some.
The large branches sold by the street merchants are much larger than the twigs you see in the cartoons. I didn’t realise what it was until I brought it home. Then I was informed of the species of plant. Apparently, it is still a tradition in some countries to have mistletoe at New Years. But what is it used for?
Most people holding mistletoe around Cluj will probably be selling it, but I am sure there are still places where it is used for decoration.
In British and Scandinavian mythology, mistletoe was used as a weapon. And the fruit creates an illegal glue that some people put on branches to catch birds. Perhaps that is where Roald Dahl got the idea for The Twits.
Magazin mentions a tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. I saw that on shows like Scooby Doo. If you have ever seen that in real life, you can let us know in the comments.
The Belgians just kiss at New Year, no need to buy mistletoe. We left a crowded party at New Years’ (indoors, no fireworks, danger of elbowing someone’s eye if you attempted to dance), and then when the clock struck midnight, the taxi driver looked back and informed us of the tradition. “You kiss on New Year.” I guess that was his way of giving us permission to kiss in his car? Maybe a Belgian can clarify the tradition for us.
Wishing a Happy New Year
In Belgium, people who do not talk to you any day of the year will wish you a Happy New Year. But don’t worry, they don’t go around kissing strangers. No, they just share warm wishes.
Our first year in Cluj, a complete stranger came up to me to wish me a Happy New Year, with a huge smile. So it isn’t only Belgium where you can send good wishes to strangers.
Breaking a pumpkin
Okay, I don’t know if we had this anywhere, except maybe in Texas. The host throws a pumpkin on the floor and depending on how many pieces it breaks into, you have good or bad luck. The key word is host, you shouldn’t go around breaking pumpkins in someone else’s house. (Not everyone celebrates that way).
The first time I heard of this tradition was reading Magazin. This newspaper mixes serious scientific updates, and historical facts with horoscopes, jokes, and an occasional alien sighting. So, it is like a cross between the American USA Today and Weekly World News. The British have more direct equivalents in tabloids like The Daily Mail and The Guardian.
However, in Texas, there was a similar tradition of throwing coconuts or watermelons around the Fourth of July. Usually, the bad luck over there involves getting shouted at and having to clean up the mess afterward.
Remote parts of Greece and Portugal may have similar traditions. But, wherever you are, I would check before attempting to throw any kind of fruit on the floor.
Watching fireworks was not mentioned, but we know there will be fireworks. You can buy them everywhere, and if you go around the center there is likely to be a display. (Perhaps around Avram Iancu square). Expect to see these at around midnight.
Britain had some great fireworks displays on New Year, and so do Belgium, parts of Mexico, and many other places.
As with swallowing grapes and throwing fruit, just don’t be stupid around fireworks. Accidents happen, and getting burnt is not fun.
There is no direct English translation for Plugușorul or Sorcova. It seems to be described as a carol that may involve instruments including bells and whips. The following website, in Romanian, has pictures and videos that show https://www.wowbiz.ro/uraturi-de-anul-nou-2023-plugusorul-si-sorcova-versuri-si-video-20279967
There is also a bear dance.
These remind us of musical traditions in Latin and Celtic countries, as well as Bavaria, which are also hard to define and translate. Each country has its own unique tradition which only makes sense when you see it.
Anyway, these carols, like other traditions, are done with “optimism, love, and goodwill.”
This is more of a Cluj tradition, perhaps. We have visited Christmas markets in other towns, and there are obviously stages being prepared for concerts in the main squares, so I expect a concert in Sibiu and elsewhere. But Cluj is known as the concert town. In the Romanian geography game Turistico, while other cities are represented with iconic landmarks, Cluj is represented by a concert stage.
From 10 pm until after midnight, in the main square with the Christmas market, be ready for a crowd listening to the songs.
Happy New Year.