Winter Celebrations during the times of Nicolae Ceausescu

During the communist era, Christmas in Romania had its own unique traditions shaped by the political context. Oranges were a special treat, and instead of Santa Claus, children were visited by “Old Mr. Frost” on the first day of the new year. The celebration of the winter holidays also served as a platform for communist propaganda and a reflection on the party’s achievements. This year marks 34 years since the execution of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu on Christmas Day in 1989.

Let’s explore together how Christmas was celebrated during communism…

Old Mr. Frost or Santa Claus?

The use of the term “Old Mr. Frost” (“Mos Gerila” in Romanian) instead of “Santa Claus” (“Mos Craciun” – “Mr. Christmas” in Romanian) was part of the communist party’s efforts to eliminate religious influences from day-to-day life. The press and officials avoided using the term “Christmas” to secularize the holiday, diverting the focus from the birth of Christ.

Children often found themselves confused; at home, they heard about Santa Claus, while at school, teachers only spoke about Old Mr. Frost, who supposedly brought gifts on the New Year’s Eve instead of the Christmas Day.

Bananas and Oranges – the Best Christmas Gifts

“I remember that Old Mr. Frost would leave the gifts outside in the snow; they weren’t always placed under the tree. It was one of the few times of the year when we received things like pens, pencil cases, or sometimes even clothes, which were not easily accessible at that time. I had an aunt in Bucharest who brought us bananas and oranges, which were even more appreciated than chocolate.”

“The bananas were green and needed to be wrapped in newspaper and placed in the wardrobe to ripen, while the oranges could be eaten immediately. We would eat them slice by slice to savor the orange flavor, and we would place the peels on the stove, filling the room with a sweet citrusy smell – for us, that was the smell of Christmas.” – Nicoleta (b. 1972)

Christmas Tree vs. Winter Tree

The term “Christmas Tree” was only reinstated after the 1989 Revolution. During communism, the term used was “Winter Tree” in an attempt to remove the Christian significance of the winter holidays from the collective consciousness.

The Winter Tree was always natural and decorated with tinsel, candies, glass balls, and candles. Electric lights and plastic trees were only available towards the end of the 1980s.

The Traditional Pig Slaughtering and the Christmas Feast

One of the most significant joys for Romanians was the pig slaughtering, traditionally done on December 20th. People in rural areas would slaughter a pig every year, with the most anticipated moment being the tasting of the pork rind immediately after the pig was butchered. Subsequently, people would work to make various traditional Romanian dishes, such as blood & liver sausages and ham. As a result, people in rural areas often had a richer Christmas feast than those in Bucharest.

In large cities, there was a real struggle to procure food. You had to “know someone who knew someone working in a store” to get delicacies like sausages, butter, Sibiu salami, or cheese. Most of the time, housewives would find creative ways to make desserts, substituting butter for oil or using fewer eggs in cakes to compensate for the scarcity of basic ingredients in stores.

The Magical Place to Celebrate Christmas like “Back in the Days”

Nowadays, everyone chooses to celebrate Christmas based on their beliefs, but occasionally it’s good to reflect on times long past to become more aware of our origins and more grateful for what we have.

The recently opened Museum “Undeva in Comunism” (“Somewhere in Communism”) provides a fully interactive space that recreates the Christmas atmosphere as it was “back in the days.” They invite you to experience the ambiance with a Christmas tree, ornaments from the 80s, and hot and aromatic mulled wine from the museum’s café, which you can enjoy in the museum’s living room decorated in a communist style at 6 Covaci Street, with the entrance from Soarelui Street, in the Old Town of Bucharest

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday (closed on Wednesdays) 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM

Entrance fee: Adults – 30 lei, University Students/Seniors – 20 lei, Students up to 18 y.o. – 10 lei

  • article by Iulia Ursulescu