Tomorrow is the Romanian National Day. December 1st, 1918 was a historic date also known as the Great Union Day or Unification Day. Even though it has been the national day only for the last 30 years or so, it’s an important day in Romanian history.
Funny enough the exact same day was historic for Icelanders too. For different reasons, obviously. But I didn’t see it celebrated in Iceland since they have their National Day on June 17th, so I will focus on Romania. Haha.
Historic Meaning of Unification Day
The Great Union marks the unification of Transylvania, Bessarabia, and Bukovina with the Romanian Kingdom. It was celebrated for the first time almost one year after the fall of communism, in 1990. The location where the proclamation of the union was signed back in 1918 is Alba Iulia. So the first time when it was celebrated it had the biggest celebration festivities and the tradition remained.
Between 1861 and 1866 National Day was celebrated on January 24th, marking the unification of Moldavia and Wallachia by prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza on 24 January 1859.Information cited from Wikipedia.
Between 1866 and 1947 it was celebrated on May 10th, known as the day on which King Carol I set foot on Romanian soil (in 1866), and the day on which the prince ratified the Declaration of Independence (from the Ottoman Empire) in 1877.
And finally, during the communism administration (1948 – 1989) the national day was celebrated on August 23rd, marking the 1944 overthrow of the pro-fascist government of Marshal Ion Antonescu
So if you are a foreigner remember this: don’t say happy independence day for Romanian National Day. We have been conquered by a lot of nations, that’s true, but this time around we are actually celebrating a union.
Events around Romania
Growing up, I didn’t do much other than stay in because I lived in a very small town and there wasn’t much happening. Since it’s always a day off (no school yay!), most of my celebration was watching TV. They would always have special screening for the whole day: from the military parades to traditional recipes and whatnot. And they do have parades in every major city around the country.
As I already mentioned, the most important city is Alba-Iulia. There’s no surprise that a lot of people are/used to travel there to celebrate. Since the pandemic started, I am not very sure how the events have been affected. The president and the official authorities would join the events, as well, and they would watch the parade. I personally have never been to Alba-Iulia on December 1st, however, I have visited the city and the citadel plenty of times. My first time was a class trip when I was about 8 years old. We visited the National Museum of the Union but I don’t remember much other than the Big Union Hall.
Memories from Romanian National Day
However, starting with my high-school years I went to some of these events in the cities where I was living at the time: Sibiu, Cluj-Napoca, Dej. The events are always starting with the military parades, the one in Bucharest is the biggest one, but not the only one televised. Sometimes foreign troops join in the parade and there is a lot of marching happening, from the colour guard to the ground mobile column while massed bands play music. There is always a silent moment for the heroes who have fallen during wars we took part in. I have to mention one year my partner at the time was working for the army so he took part in the parade. And I followed them the whole time which was probably a 40-minute walk through the main road in town.
The events continue with performances from artists all around the country, playing mostly Romanian traditional music while being dressed in national traditional costumes representing their region. There is a lot of food and drinks being served because the Christmas markets are open at the same time. The events are always ending with a show of fireworks provided by the municipality.
Romanian Food on Great Union Day
What’s a National Day without food, isn’t it? Since it’s winter already, most of the food we eat is pork-based (a pre-Christmas preparation if you may) and very important, the hot (alcoholic) drinks: mulled wine, hot cider or hot chocolate. My mouth is watering only when I think about these recipes. For example, Bean and Smoked Pork Hocks (Fasole cu Ciolan Afumat). Damn! Or Polenta with Pork Sausages (Mămăligă cu Cârnați). Or Cabbage Rolls (Sarmale cu Varză). And usually freshly made soft pretzels are to be found as well. Since I haven’t prepared these dishes myself, I just added links to some of the recipes I would suggest reading. They are all in Romanian, so if you don’t understand the language you could at least see the pictures. And it’s important to notice that each recipe differs from one region of the country to another.
But for me, December 1st was always more than that. December 1st was also the beginning of the winter holidays. Well, sort of. Back in the day, December 1st was also the first day of Christmas Markets and when the winter lights were lightened up. (I hate it so much how now they start in November). There used to be official lighting of the Christmas tree, I am not even sure that’s still a thing. Sometimes the Christmas Markets would come with a few rides for children and young adults to enjoy – most of them being Christmas themed.
National Day Celebrated Abroad
During my life, it happened a lot of times to celebrate the National Day abroad so here are some short stories from those times.
Tunisia – 2012
It might have been one of my favourite days to celebrate abroad: a group of friends went on an island and had mulled wine (made by a German) and we’ve listened to Romanian music. It was my first time celebrating it in a warm country and I have to say I enjoyed a lot.
Iceland – 2015
The first year of being here, in Iceland, I was a volunteer at the time. I remember they announced a horrible storm coming, so I decided to work from home. I felt far away from my kind and I missed watching the parade even on TV. Later in the evening I just had a glass of red wine and watched the storm from the window, all alone. It felt weird, to say the least. I have no idea what I did for December 1st 2016, I was still in Iceland, so most likely I was working.
Uruguay – 2017
It was not a good time for me because of a story I am not fully ready to talk about. However, I made time for just one picture and the metaphor of it says more than I can share now. I was in Uruguay as the second country I visited during my South American trip, back in 2017-2018. I ended up visiting 5 more countries and now I regret not writing more about it on my blog instead of on just random Fb. posts. But I digress.
Morocco – 2018
This was again was one of the best because I was travelling with mum. It was her first time visiting a country outside of Europe. We stayed in Agadir but on December 1st we went on a day-tour through Marrakesh. It was a very lovely day full of exploring, making time for tea and learning more about the Moroccan culture.
NYC – 2019
This was the funniest. I was visiting my current partner and our plan was to go to Central Park, take some pics and then go home and enjoy some mulled wine. But we didn’t have time to visit Central Park because of some personal issues so I only posed in front of it. However, we did have homemade mulled wine, I made it and it was a bit too strong for me. Haha.
Ecuador – 2020
This was an amazing one. My partner and I were in Ecuador and we decided to go on a short ride to a close-by beach from where we were staying at. We had mimosas, walked on the beach and took plenty of pictures. All in all, we spent half a day there. To this day this is the best memory I keep in my heart.
I have talked a little more about my experiences celebrating Romanian National Day abroad on Travelling Inside Out – Episode 65. Have a listen, and while at it… please rate it.
This year I am still in Iceland far away from my family or my partner. I can’t say I love it, but the choices I made brought me to this so it’ll do. On top of that, thinking about my country saddens me a lot. It seems that we’re going backwards and any progress we are making is met with a lot of closed minds. So this year I hope we will learn to heal. Not from a virus but from the national wound we’ve been carrying for generations.