Old Romanian War Carols

These old Romanian war carols come to us through the gates of Apuseni Mountains where, throughout the years, the war took many young man, placing its stigma on the lives of those left behind, parents, sweethearts, or the peaceful everyday life of a village.

Today we are used with cheerful, sparkly, joyful carols. But these folk songs sung around the Winter Solstice meant to praise the passing of a season and the arrival of a new one became an outlet for pain, for longing, and for loss.

Old Romanian War Carols, colindatori cu steaua, Romanian Incredible winter traditions
Carolers with The Star, Romanian Incredible winter traditions

Carols for those Who Went to War

Some carols came home from the war zone, in the form of letters written in verse, the melancholy of missing so many caroling seasons weeping throughout the page.

But those who left were always followed by a thought from the heart, almost like a prayer, and by the respect of those left behind – who often caroled them, at least in memory:

“Du-te pasăre şi zboară,
În Rusia de coboară,
Deasupra de lagăre,
Unde dorm cătanele.
Şi le cântă cu glas tare,
Să ştie că-i sărbătoare.
Şi le cântă cu glas bun,
Să ştie că îi Crăciun.”

Old Romanian War Carol

“Go, go, bird, fly and soar,
Over Russia flee with care,
Over concentration camps
Where the soldiers sleep in damps.
And sing them all out loud
To know it’s time for feast renowned.
And sing them all a tune so sweet 
To know it’s Christmas time on earth.”

The life of a solder was often a life sentence of an unpredictable time, it was often seen as aright of passage, and as important as birth, marriage, and death.

Old Romanian War Carols, Arduzel wooden church CodruCulturaMM
Silent prayer: Arduzel Wooden Church (CodruCulturaMM)

Carols for those Who Went Away

Others ballads were sung for those lost to war, the woebegone, the wretched young soldiers, the unknown prisoners, or the inconsolable lads who simply hoped for a better life – elsewhere. And sung were they by those left behind, alone and lonely, in a void space. For not all carols are cheerful.

Dalbe flori, de sărbători,
Nu s-aud colindători,
Cum erau, de alte ori,
De cu sară, până-n zori.
Triste sunt fecioarele
Că şi-au tors fuioarele,
Şi-şi aşteaptă mirele.
Dar mirele nu mai vine,
Că-i plecat în ţări streine…?

“Lily-white, festive light,
Carolers not heard tonight
How they were in long-past times 
From the evening till first light.
Sad are maidens all
Spun spindles alone,
Waiting for their grooms
Who don’t show in moons,
For they’ve gone abroad
In that foreign land.”

Old Romanian War Carols, Black Romanian blouse, ia, white needle work
Carols sewn on folk shirts, ia

Carols Sewn on Folk Shirts, ia

While the lads were sent to meet their life sentence, the war zone, they did so dressed in their Sunday best, especially in a shirt, a ie, sewn for this very occasion by their mothers and decorated with symbols meant to remind the young men of the loved ones left behind, of their life as it once was, and, pray to God, it could be again.

A war carol for the lads leaving to fight – that came to us from Chioaru Country (an area in NW of today’s Romania) first mentioned in the 14th century:

„Pe mânica de-a dreapta,
Scrie-mi-te dumneata,
Pe mânica de-a stânga,
Scriem’, maică, drăguţa,
Pe lătuţu’ dinapoi
Scrie-mi plug cu patru boi…”.

“On the sleeve to the right
Saw a letter from your heart,
On the sleeve to my left
Write of one girl I like best,
And on the shirt’s widest back
Saw four oxen and a cart.”

The cart with four oxen being a symbol for an idyllic life that the young man, gone to war, will definitely miss.

Carols for those Lost in Wars

Some other carols are hummed, more then sung, by the light of a fire that burns as fierce as the caroler’s pain. Folks-people mourned even more when losing one of their own to a place far away, and among strangers.

While the souls lost in battle received a special sermon and, in the absence of a body, a young fir tree was placed in the coffin – the trees and the forest having a significant role in the culture of the Romanian folk.

„În loc de popă cu carte,
Doi soldaţi cu dobă-n spate,
De tri ori pă zî o bate
şi le iartă din păcate.
În loc de tras clopotile,
Dau nemţî cu tunurile,
De răsună dealurile”.

“Instead of a learned priest,
Two soldiers armed like beasts,
Pounding three times in a day
To sent all sins away.
And in place of bells
German cannons spell a yell,
Echoing the hills like hell.”

Old Romanian War Carols

And the Prayer for Peace Christmas Carol

“E Crăciun cu bucurie
Ei pă câmp de bătălie,
Dă, Doamne, o pace-n ţară
Şi alt Crăciun vesăl iară,
Să să-ntoacă-nvingători
La dragi căsuţăle lor…”

“Christmas came again with joy
They’re on battlefield deployed,
Bless, God, this land with peace
To share next Christmas-time at least,
Let them home return as heroes
To their homes, not to their widows.”

For whatever reason you will sing carols this December, be it to rejoice in the birth of Jesus, to celebrate the promise of a new year, or to remember and take comfort in a beautiful and moving tradition, I hope that you will spare a thought for the old, and lesser known, Romanian war carols – sadly, still in need today.

Source: Calendarul Popular al Romanilor

Thank you for your support this passing year. It is for you, my blogger friends and readers, that I write. Wishing you and yours a Blessed Festive Season!
Merry Christmas and a VERY Happy New Year!

One Reply to “Old Romanian War Carols”

Comments are closed.

Discover more from Patricia Furstenberg, Author of Dreamland and Other Books

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading