St Andrew - the Romanian Halloween with Extra Spooks
Americans made Halloween famous around the globe, but Romanians have been fighting their own evil spirits for centuries. Spiced with a lot of garlic and oozing with rituals, St Andrew — the Romanian Halloween — is celebrated every year on the 30th of November. In the night prior, werewolves, ghosts, poltergeists and other unnamable phantoms cross the barrier between worlds. St Andrew is more about the “trick” than it is about the “treat”. But what it lacks in costumes, it makes up in ancient rituals and traditions that still hold a superstitious grip on Romanians.
Will you get the heebie-jeebies? Oh yes, in the most exciting way possible. So grab a generous bunch of garlic to protect against wicked spirits and venture into the creeps of the Romanian Halloween. If you’re brave enough, we’ll face the ghosts of St Andrew’s head and unravel the folklore that gives it the extra creeps. Zoinks, indeed!
St Andrew: From Lore to Folklore
The roots of St Andrew’s holiday stretch back to Jesus’ time and his twelve apostles. Among them was — you guessed it — St Andrew. A fisherman just like his better-known brother Peter, he is said to be the first missionary to spread Christianity in the area that is now Romania. But St Andrew wasn’t the kind to stand still so he also reached Scotland, Greece, Cyprus and even Sicily. Today, he’s the patron saint of all these countries.
If we separate religious belief from popular myths, a more eerie image emerges and the wolves begin to pack. Yes, howling wolves. It is said that on St Andrew’s Eve, wolves gather to receive their fair share of winter provisions from the saint himself. Why wolves? Well, because the Dacian people, one of the Romanian’s ancestors, found these animals sacred. Speaking the tongue of humans, wolves become extra dangerous on this day, having the power to transform anybody who listens to them in a werewolf. But don’t worry, Romanians have devised heaps of rituals and magic spells to keep everybody safe from harm. Begin by turning all the cups and glasses in your house bottoms’ up, and you’ll already be half protected.
St Andrew’s Eve Rituals: A Garlic-y Halloween
Typically, you wouldn’t even consider replacing candies with garlic. But if you happen to be in Romania on the 29th of November, we guarantee you’ll set aside your sugar cravings and go for some good old fashioned garlic protection spells.
During St Andrew’s Eve, Romanians get ready by rubbing a devilish amount of garlic on their doors and windows and by spreading poppy seeds around their farm animals and pets. The ritual is meant to keep away poltergeists, werewolves, ghosts and evil spirits and bring luck and wealth instead.
Once this protection spell is cast, Romanians settle down and proceed to other charms for love, luck and stolen objects to return. And they’re rather good at it. In fact, you’ll seldom encounter another nation so devoted to their superstitions and so willing to teach foreigners how to avoid being cursed. By the way, whatever you do on St Andrew’s day, don’t comb your hair, don’t dare to pronounce the name of the wolf and don’t borrow anything! Other than this, you should be fine.
Love’s a Scare, But Do Dare!
We all know that love isn’t easy. And this is especially true on St Andrew’s day, when countless other dangers await. That doesn’t mean Romanian girls abandon all hope. On the contrary. Young women in Romania rely on an entire repertoire of spells and magic chants to find out who their destined one is.
Women who want to get married put basil under their pillows in hopes that their soulmate will reveal himself in their dreams. Others, bake a traditional Romanian flatbread with extra salt. They eat half and place the other half under their pillow. Then, they wait for prince charming to appear in their dreams and offer them water, confirming the fact that they will soon find their husband. In other regions of Romania, girls put 41 wheat grains under their pillow. If a girl dreams that somebody is taking the grain, it means that she will get married in the year to come.
To make sure their beloved will return their feelings, many women wake up at midnight and turn a ceramic jug upside down. Then, they place hot coal on its bottom and chant a few magic spells.
Traditions for a prosperous year
Overcoming the scariest of times must mean great things are ahead, right? That’s precisely what Romanians think. Even if they’re not among the most optimistic people, they are certainly among the ones willing to endure the most to make it to the bright side. That’s why on St Andrew’s day, when all the evil spirits are out to get them, Romanians make time to read their future and bring luck their way.
Farmers put aside grains for sprouting, carefully analysing their growth to know if next year’s harvest will be plentiful. This tradition is also supposed to bring good luck to the household and ensure a prosperous future.
Another simple way of seeing what the future might hold, is observing the weather on St Andrew’s day. If it’s sunny and pleasant, it means a gentle winter awaits. If, on the contrary, the weather is dull and cloudy, people should get ready for a cold and snowy winter.
Where to celebrate St Andrew
Besides packing rituals and traditions that might take hours on end to complete, St Andrew also brings homage to those who have his name. On this day, all the people named Andreea or Andrei have one more reason to celebrate. Oh, and since the following day is Romania’s Great Union Day, the festivities get prolonged.
For Romanians, this means spending more time with their families in parts of the country that still keep St Andrew’s traditions alive. For foreigners, this means getting to know how Romanians celebrate. And believe us, they’re among the most welcoming people you’ll ever meet. If they have a good feeling about you, they’ll invite you into their homes, serve you a shot of their best palinca (the traditional Romanian spirit drink) and indulge you with so much food you won’t believe your eyes!
To get immersed in the most authentic rituals and traditions, head towards Maramures and Bucovina. These two regions of Romania are highly known for their affection towards the past. They guard their rituals with a warm heart and love nothing more than to share. And don’t worry, they’ll protect you with all the garlic in their pantries and then some!
Come under the spell of Romania Private Tours
To safely navigate among the spirits on St Andrew’s day, you need a trusted guide that’s not afraid of a poltergeist or two. We’re here to help you see the lore in the most exciting way possible.
At Romania Private Tours, our speciality is crafting bespoke tours that capture the magic of Romania through authentic experiences. We’ll take you the off-beat path into the most remote and unique places of Romania to discover its true nature: lively, warming, superstitious, joyful and inviting. Bring your kids and family along, bring your soul mate or venture with friends. No matter what you choose, we have the activities to help you experience an unforgettable Romania.
Now, if you’ll excuse us, we must go and buy all the garlic we can find.
by Ilona Iftode, with garlic and love