Culture

Gergely Csoma: The Christmas Customs of the Moldavian Csángós


The Catholic Csángó Hungarians celebrate Christmas with deep faith and solemnity. Today’s
shopping fever and gift piling are unknown to the Moldavian Hungarians, and in many places they are not familiar with the Christmas tree, either. The custom of putting up and decorating a Christmas tree started to spread from towns in recent years due to the influence of television.

People start Christmas with cleaning the house and the yard. For Christmas day they bake bread and milk loaf. Moldavian milk loaf is different from the usual Hungarian one which is a kind of sweet bread with walnut, cocoa or poppy seed. Moldavian Christmas milk loaf is like a small round plaited pretzel, without flavouring. It is baked in an oven, and its bottom is sometimes burnt and covered with ash. It is a present for those going round the village chanting and singing colindas (Christmas carols) in Bukila/Buchila and Bogdánfalva / Valea Seaca.

At dusk children set out in twos or threes. People tie their dogs up so that they could not bite the children who go from house to house and start singing outside, at the window. The host or hostess comes in and gives them the pretzels, today also some biscuits, wafers and other sweets, as a reward. Children more and more often sing their Christmas songs in Romanian nowadays.


Traditionally they sang the following songs: István királyról szóló ének [Song about King Stephen], Örvendezzél, Betlehembe mentünk [Rejoice, we went to Betlehem], Pásztorok, pásztorok örvendeznek [Shepherds, shepherds are rejoicing], Csordapásztorok [Herdsmen], Boldog ház, hol Krisztus lakék [Blessed house, where Christ lived], etc.

It is an overwhelming experience to celebrate Christmas in Moldavia. There is singing in every
part of the dark village, and among a lot of new songs translated into Romanian sometimes you can hear a beautiful old Hungarian melody. Streets are full of children carrying their round
pretzels in their satchels (or plastic bags). Lots of pretzels are needed, 80-100 pieces are baked in a house to avoid the shame of not having enough. The older singers and relatives are invited into the house. In many villages it is a custom to tell greeting poems.

“Én nyakamba nyúlék
Piti (kicsi) kucát fogék.
Ó, te piti kuca (bolha)
El sze velem rázba!
Akkor a hó hátára
S akkor szarkák szájikba!
Eljüve két szarka 
Úgy megküzdék válik,
Mint két erős bika,
S egy bekkincs karúba.
Egy paripát lelék, 
Annak a négy lábát
Retekvel patkolják,
De a zabot, s árpát
Nemigen kiálcsák. 
De a cigányos táncot
Ügyesen kiállják.
Hallod-e barátom,
Mondd meg, honnat jöttél,   

Hogy mertél ajtómon
Nagy bátran dörgetni?
Látod az királnak
Haragjába jöttél, 
Milliós császárnak
Parancsára jöttél.
Hallod-e barátom
Szállást nem adhatok 
Vendégeim vannak
Királ és Császárnak,
De még ezek után
Többeket es várok. 
Hallod-e barátom:
Kösziklába es van engedelmesség,
Pogánynál es van 
Sűrű nemzetség.
Hát néked
Hogy nincs kegyesség?
Szállásikra aggya Isten!”

“I touched my neck,
I caught a small flea.
Oh, you small flea,
Come to dance with me.
Then onto the snow, 
Then into magpies’ mouth.
Two magpies came,
They fought with each other
Like two strong bulls
……………………
I have found a horse,
Its four legs are
Shod with radish, 
But oat and barley
Are not really called.
But the gypsy dance
Is done well. 
Listen, my friend, 
Tell me where you come from,

How did you dare to
Knock on my door?
You see, you’ve come for 
The anger of the king,
You’ve come for the order
Of millions’ emperor.
Listen, my friend, 
I can’t put the king 
nor the emperor up,
I have guests,
And I am waiting 
For others to come. 
Listen, my friend, 
Even the rocks can obey,
Even the pagans are
Charitable. 
How you have 
No benevolence?
Bless the Lord your house.”

Told by Anti László (60)
Collected by Gergely Csoma, Klézse / Cleja, 1993

They go to the house singing the song “Karácsony éjszakáján” [At Christmas Night], then tell the
following poem:

“Szuolom Szent Jánosnak
Három szent kalácsa,
Ollyan szép tanácsa vót, 
Mind e jó kalácsa vót!
Dicsértessék Jézus!”

Sometimes they also say:


“Mik kicsikék vagyunk,
Szólani se tudunk,
Méges ez Istennek
Dicséretit mondjuk
Szállásikra!”

“Saint John
Had three holy milk loaves,
He had such nice advice,
He had these good milk loaves!
Praised be Jesus!”

                                                                                                          

“We are so small,
We can't even speak,
Still we ask 
The Lord to bless
Your house!”

At night people all go to the midnight mass. Those who want to know the opinion of their domestic animals go to the stable and listen in. Animal’ speech can be understood at Christmas
night, and people can get to know the animals’ opinion of their keepers. Children has to eat garlic to be protected from worms.

Children used to go round the village with a Nativity play. I could record this play on a video tape
in Lészped / Lespezi.


Sándor Veress in his book titled “Moldvai gyűjtés” [Moldavian collection] published the text of a
Nativity play from Trunk / Galbeni, but he remarks that it was taken from Ketris / Chetriş. I have to add another remark to it: Pál Péter Domokos taught the text of the play to the youth of Trunk / Galbeni, and it was also him who sent costumes to them at the beginning of 1930. I heard it in 1985 from György Pánczél, a relative of the then leader of the group, János Pánczél. I saw children in Nativity play costumes singing in Romanian in Nagypatak / Valea Mare in 1990.

Another feast with folk customs at Christmas time was the Holy Innocents’ Day (28th December). Children went from house to house with apple tree twigs, they imitated beating with the twigs to bring God’s blessing to the house and its habitants, and during this they told a poem:

“Dicsértessék Szent Jézus,
Jézusnak szent neve,
Aprószentek, Szent Dávid, 
Üselje (viselje) egészséggel-békességvel,
Sok jó szerencsével!”

“Praised be Saint Jesus,
Jesus’s holy name,
Holy Innocents, Saint David, 
And you be in good health and peace,
And have good luck!”
Bogdánfalva / Valea Seaca, 1979

Children got pretzels and left happily.

These customs can still be found in Moldavia, and some young Csángó Hungarians make conscious efforts to have old Hungarian carols on 24th December.

I could experience all these in Klézse / Cleja and Somoska / Şomuşca at Christmas in 2000.

Music

Moldavian folk music is a peculiar segment of Hungarian folk music tradition. The musical
instruments, the strange sounding of vocal and instrumental melodies as well as the dances
quickly became popular – and not only with the young.

In our music page we would like to offer writings and photos connected with the vocal and instrumental music, instruments and dances of Moldavian Csango Hungarians, descriptions of
collecting those things in Moldavia, and also downloadable melodies.

First we have chosen several songs and dance melodies from the album of the Zurgo
ensemble (founded in 1993).
Have a good time!