In one of the churches in Strasbourg, I chanced upon an exhibition about Advent and New Year festivities – Romanian style. There were costumes and masks and many photos showing these being worn.
This table bears a typical selction of food that would be offered to the equivalent of our carol singers – groups of people who go round the villages on Christmas eve singing “colinds” (traditional songs). This is ritual food, the offering of which will bestow on the offerer prosperity, abundance and fertility. Without the singing of these “colinds” Christmas would not be Christmas say the old folk of the villages, who never tire of hearing these songs.
The wishes of Sorcova – small groups of children, dressed in their Sunday best and carrying bunches of paper flowers, go from homestead to homestead to wish the farmers:
vivez, fleurissez, comme pommier, comme poirier, au milieu de l'été! dur comme la pierre, rapide comme la flèche! dur comme le fer, rapide comme d'acier!
which, roughly translated means: grow, flourish, like the apple tree, like the pear treer, in the middle of summer! hard as stone, fast as an arrow! hard as iron, fast as steel!
The dance of the goat
The goat and its retinue of masked beings – the old men (shepherds), the old women, the brides and grooms, traders and jews – progress through the streets accompanied by musicians in a lively pantomine in which the goat falls sick, an old man desperately tries to revive it while holding a comic conversation with it. Finally the animal dies (like the old year) much to the joy of the onlookers. This dance is linked to old symbols of fertility and fecundity.
The goat’s mask and costume constitute a fantastical representation of a mythological creature.
The head consists of a muzzle, covered with a hare’s pelt, with a lower, moveable jaw. The horns can be real goat’s horns or made from wood. Strings of ribbons, glass beads, wool, bits of mirror, basil and paper flowers are attached to the horns. At the end of the horns tiny bells are attached. The body of the goat is covered in a piece of carpet or heavy-duty cloth to which are sown handkerchiefs, womens beaded belts, and heads of maize overlapped to form scales. Because of the ritual nature of the costume even the most modern bits of jewellry and fabric can be used.
Dialogue between the good guys (the handsome ones) and the villains (the ugly ones)
Another categoryof masks and ritual costumes present in the New Year customs are those of the villains. The masks show in the most expressive and original way, like a caricature, all the worst defects of the human race. The eyes, nose, ears and hair are meant to personify old age (the old men and women), ethinic identity (Tsiganes, Jews, Turks, Cossaks, Armenians), certain professions (merchant, doctor, sanitary agent or forester) and last but not least Death and the Devils. Each of these personnages wears a hideous mask with mismatched clothes. During the festival period the Villains form groups whose prime role is to entertain the onlookers.
The other group is made of the Handsome ones, under this appelation appear the ceremonial costumes of the emperor, the minister, the general, and the gendarme. This category is a later addition to the New Year customs and constitute an ironic representation of the authority of the former Austrian empire – Hungary. There is not much difference between the costumes of the emperor, ministers, etc: they all wear uniforms (either miliary or from the railway) to which are added long trains of medals and epaulettes. They all wear painted helmets with the colour of the feather plumes revealing the rank of a particular personage.