Before coming to Romania I was quite familiar with music circles. I may have joined a drum circle once or twice in my younger years but my lack of rhythm usually left me on the periphery enjoying the sounds produced by slightly more skilled musicians. One of my favorite memories of my college years took place at the Hogue's residence. I would enter the room and see at least 3 guitars, maybe some bongo drums, and whatever else they had there to make music with. The furniture was arranged around a center table and we just happened to be sitting in a circle, the music was flowing. One activity that would pop up at times was a song where we went around the room and everyone had to improvise a verse. Even though I wasn't very good at this I really liked hearing what people came up with and well, in that environment you didn't have to be good at it, it was just fun. I was reminded about these "music circles" last night when I took a nice winter walk through the park.
Over the past few weeks it has seemed like night has been falling on Petrocity so fast. Even though I have caught glimpses of the pretty lights and the evening winter activities, I haven't yet taken the time to just wander through town and enjoy the holiday spirit. I kept on telling myself when I returned home from school "tonight I'll get bundled up and take a walk through town" but when the time came it just seemed so much nicer to stay in the house. Last night the conditions were perfect.
It was about 5:30pm when I was reminded of the night's special event. Earlier yesterday, on my way to school, my Romanian teacher offered me a ride in a taxi that she was taking to school. She was on her way to rehearse some carols with students. It was in that cab when she informed me that at 6:00pm she would be in the park with some students caroling. At 5:30 I started bundling up and by 5:45 I was out the door where I quickly realized that it was a beautiful night. It wasn't super cold like it had been the day before, and it was snowing a bit. While walking through town I could feel the holiday spirit. Petrocity is decked out in Christmas lights on its main street which stretches for about 3 km. There were people doing Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, going out to restaurants, or just walking with their friends. I had a destination in mind. My destination was the park. The park in Petrocity is pretty extraordinary at the moment. It's covered in Christmas lights with the main concentration of lights at the fountain. Each light post has a speaker pumping out holiday tunes. In the center of the park you see a very large tree decorated with lights and a star at its peak. Next to the tree there is a nativity scene with some sheep there eating hay. Finally, next to the tree I saw the group of people standing together.
I expected to see something like a chorus concert. My Romanian teacher told me that other schools were involved as well. What I saw was a music circle, in fact it was a caroling circle.
I would say that caroling is big in Romania. Last year some kids came knocking on my door and as I opened it they began singing Romanian carols. I listened with a smile and I reached into my pockets. As they finished I handed them each one leu and thanked them for the holiday spirit. This year there were two big, back to back activities at my school both involving Christmas caroling. A tradition that I've heard of that I haven't had a chance to participate in is caroling on Christmas eve. People of all ages form small groups and go around to the houses of people they know where they sing Christmas carols and then they are invited in, fed delicious food, and they sip on warm wine or tuica. When I took some time to think about these traditions I realized that something similar hits close to home. These seem to be Orthodox traditions. I remembered Russian Christmas on the 7th of January going to church and the a nice dinner afterwords in the church hall. After the dinner we would come home and my parents would put cookies and drinks out on the table, we were expecting carolers. A family from the church would come by the house on every Russian Christmas and they sang carols and chatted with us for a while before going to the next house.
When I arrived at the circle I met up with my Romanian teacher and some of her students. They were students that I had seen caroling earlier that day at our school. When it was time for Colegiul Tehnica to go the group stepped up and started their carols. One of the students brought a guitar and with it he led the group through a number of carols. At one point they called me up to help them sing "We wish you a Merry Christmas". I was embarrassed that I didn't know all of the lyrics, just the chorus. I would say that the group from Colegiul Tehnica did a fine job. The other high schools followed and by the end everybody in the circle was singing to close the event.
I continued my leisurely walk through the city passing by the temporary ice rink and the market which was closed for the evening. Finally I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple things before returning home. It ended up being a great night to see the lights, feel the Christmas spirit in town, and I got some shopping done as well. Sarbatori Fericite!