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The “Marmaţia” Winter Festival of Folk Customs and Traditions

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The “Marmaţia” Winter Festival of Folk Customs and Traditions

Since 1969, in Sighetu Marmaţiei municipality, the former administrative capital of Mara­mures, a fabulous festival of folk customs and traditions takes place each winter. It is quite unique through its originality and the authenticity of the costumes and folk productions presented. The developments of the festival are neither the result of a scenario nor of being staged by the organizers who offer only the setting and just let things happen.

Preceded by a great number of other events, such as concerts of old carols, art shows, book launchings, the Festival begins with the reception of the villagers from Vadu Izei with the “Little Plough”. This is followed by the parade of those coming from the other villages of Maramures with their carols, masked dances, and the presentation of other specific winter customs. The devils and masked characters, the decorated carts and the riders impress the lookers-on. The first day ends in a gala show.

From its very first editions, the festival became nationwide known, traditions from other ancient regions of Romania – Moldova, Bucovina, Banat, Oltenia, Dobrogea – have been presented as well, and participants from Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, and other countries have lately joined the festival bringing their traditions.

Thus, a primarily local brand has become, for the first time, a Euro-regional brand, due to the promotion of multiculturalism.


History. It must not be forgotten that the festival had its beginnings under the communist regime. Its first stage had been the organizing of a concert of carols housed by the Baia Mare Drama Theatre (on the 28th of December 1968), with the members of the County Bureau of the party and of the Popular Council being present. In its second stage, the festival moved to Sighet, under a name meant to avert the authorities’ suspicions: “The festival of the secular winter folk customs and traditions”. On the 28th of December 1969, a concert of carols was given in the Studio Hall at Sighet. The following day, allegorical carts and groups of carollers paraded in the streets. Artist Alexandru Şainelic had prepared the decoration of the allegorical carts and of the town, while Traian Hrişcă had made 48 canvas paintings of masks to decorate the town. After the third edition, the organizers abandoned the name of “secular customs”, and since 2003, it has been included, via the International Organization of Folklore (I.O.V.) affiliated to the UNESCO, among the International Festivals.


Since December 1970, the brand has had also a component with scientific character, hosting the Session of scientific papers and reports on the theme of folklore, held on the second day of the festival. The mentor of this manifestation is Dr. Mihai Dăncuş, director of the Museum of Maramures. Along the years, a great number of researches, both Romanian and from abroad, have presented papers; among them: Jean Cuisenier, Claude Karnooh, Gail Kligman, Miya Kosei, Marie Gabrielle Leblanck, Patrick and Christine Weisbecher, Pierre Dutron, Joel Marrant, Mihai Dimiu, Constantin Eretescu, Sanda Golopenţia, Aurora-Preju Liiceanu, Nicolae Dunăre, Liviu Sofonea, Dumitru Pop, Mihai Pop a. s. o.

Some of the over four hundred papers have been included in the series of Acta Musei Maramoresiensis (Vol. I – 2002), an academic publication, being itself a brand.

Tânjaua de pe Mara”

One of the oldest folk customs from Maramures preserved up to our days is known as “Tânjaua de pe Mara” (“The Yoke on the Mara”). It is celebrated in the villages of Hoteni, Hărniceşti and Sat Şugătag on St. George’s Day (the 23rd of April) or, more recently, around May Day. In its essence it is meant to honour the peasant who was the first to plough his land, actually the most hardworking man in the village.

An incursion into the ancestral tradition of the Romanian people would show that certain elements of the custom correspond to the ancient New Year (spring) practices, remarkable not because of their grandeur or opulence, but for containing the necessary gestures specific to the agrarian and pastoral traditions to which these ceremonial elements belong: “It is more than probable that the first furrow made by the plough at the old New Year was a real one, the first made that year in the field where the seeds were to be sown, followed by other furrows, made by the ploughs of all the members of the community, till the ploughing and sowing were completed” (Dumitru Pop, 1982).

Searching for Roman vestiges in the autochthonous folklore, Dem. G. Teodorescu (1885) had found the legend according to which Emperor Trajan reserved himself the honour of starting the agricultural works in spring by drawing himself a furrow in a field close to Rome.

There is no doubt that such customs, more or less influenced by the practices of the Romans, were specific to other Indo-European peoples as well, and certainly to the population living on the territory of our country.

But the Land of Maramures, in comparison with other ethno-folkloric zones in Romania, has the privilege of having preserved the custom in a less altered form. The first ploughman in the village is celebrated as if he were an emperor, being carried in triumph along the lanes down to the river where the elders of the village utter formulas meant to influence the fertility of their lands and to persuade the Sun to make the fields yield.

It is true that by now the stages of the ceremonial have acquired a certain tendency towards the spectacular, so as to please the numerous and heterogeneous lookers-on. Nevertheless, beyond nowadays colourful developments, one has see the original ritual that had been sober and without any artifice and bearing multiple significances.

There is a similar custom still alive in Şurdeşti (Land of Chioar), called “Udătoriul” (“dipping”), dedicated similarly to “the first ploughman”, the one who has opened up the field and started the agrarian cycle of the year.

Though in other parts of the country this agrarian fertility rite was abandoned in practice, it has been preserved in poetry and in the winter custom of the “Little Plough”, a kind of New Year’s “folk drama” or pageant.

Whether the Hoteni (or Şurdeşti) celebration is a live relic of autochthonous traditions or was brought by the Roman legions when they colonized Dacia, there is no doubt it belongs to the ancient Indo-European culture.

We have the privilege to discover a millenary rite that is part of the active fund of traditions in Maramures and it has to be presented under this particular perspective to those who come from other parts of the world. Most probably not even the descendants of the ancient Romans have preserved it in its country of origin (Italy); for if the custom had been preserved in one way or another it is only sure that they would have found a way to include it their offers for tourists.

We have got this chance and we advertise it (in folders or on sites) as a simple colourful event, a local carnival ending in a picnic.

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