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Winter customs and traditions

The She-Goat Dance – the most popular New Year’s tradition

From pre-Christian times, certain rituals were passed down to us even if their mythological meaning was lost, but they have survived time as festive and playful events.

The she-goat dance – with its great diversity of forms – is the oldest and the most widely spread tradition among mask dances. Thus, the dance has its own specific traits in every village although the farming message is the same – nature’s revival and hopes for a more plentiful New Year.

The tradition has a spectacular ceremony where the dance, music, costumes, props, and text express moments in the she-goat’s life – being bought, sold, falling ill, dying, disenchantment, and the joy of revival.

For this interpretation large or small procession of specific characters (the captain, the hunter, the shepherd, the masked men, the musicians, and the most important – the she-goat, with its head fur-wrapped head, with horns on its forehead and a chattering muzzle, variously dressed and decorated.

The goat’s procession can be admired around New Year on the narrow lanes of the villages in the Neamţ County or even in the town streets during the folk festivals organised on this occasion. The drumming, the tinkling harness bells, the lively coloured costumes and masks, the specific dance, are enlivening the feast and joyful atmosphere and make the viewers’ delight. The most interesting she-goat dances are those in the village of Bahna, Dămuc, Grinţieş, Ceahlău, Timişeşti, Oniceni, Pipirig, Toşorog, Bâra, and many others.




The mask is an instrument of people’s disguise, usually used with practical and magic purposes. Later on, it acquired ceremonial, festive and playful ones. The term comes from the Latin “mascha”, meaning “wizard”.

Over the centuries, masks have suffered structural changes – from the body one to the head or face – and morphological changes – from the animal masks to characters to satirize people’s defects and to make people laugh.

Mask dances in the Neamţ County generate the more complex and the more spectacular New Year’s customs.

The body masks cover the entire body of the dancers, imitating the shape of the chosen animal.

The she-goat mask is the most commonly used and most varied body shape. It is made of a woodenhead, sometimes heavily decorated (”Valerica” – Doljeşti). Its the chattering muzzle and clothes vary from one village to another: colourful ribbons in Târpeşti, Petricani, and Taşca; bedcovers and quits – Hangu, Borca; home woven rugs – in Bălţăteşti, embroidered handkerchiefs – Dămuc, home woven towels – in Piatra Şoimului, wool fluffy bedcover – in Doljeşti. However, the most interesting and expressive is the Timişeşti she-goat, with its not-chattering muzzle and the shepherd’s hood that succeeds in conveying the ancient message of the pain of nature’s death and the joy of the new natural cycle by highly artistic mimicry and virtuosity.

The bear mask is another body shape with many local variants of head decorations – with beads, mirrors and artificial flowers. The most popular are the ones from Gârcina, Tazlău, Tarcău, and Girov.

The horses are extra body masks, with their woodenhead to which colourful ribbons are attached din (Borleşti). These ribbons are tied to the waist of the dancer who wears a folk dress and a cap or helmet on his head decorated with tassels and flowers (Borleşti). Other horse shapes have a lower part of the body, a wooden circle, dressed with various cloths (Crăcăoani, Bârgăoani).

The head masks have developed in a wide array of shapes, from the zoomorphic to the anthropomorphic ones, with as ugly and merry as possible expressions. From among the animal masks, the most commonly met are the bear, the ram, the goat, the she-goat, the bird; anthropomorphic masks, e.g. old man, old woman, the tradesman, the officer, the doctor, the gipsy, the drunkard, the chattering woman, and other negative characters. Such masks are made of various materials such as fur, linen, cloth, textile fibres, wood, straw, brass, horns, and others. Dancers dressed with folk costumes that accompany the she-goat procession usually wear head masks, but they are also organised in separate gangs such as the “ugly ones” from Răuceşti – a mask parade, with dancers dressed in fluffy long overcoats carrying crooked clubs, in a lively dance intended to scare off the evil spirits.

Until mid-twentieth century, participants to the winter tradition dances used to make their own masks, with light materials, which they discarded thereafter. Even then, there were villagers more experienced in making masks that would work the masks for the less skilled younger ones. Hence, a new craft was created which has turned into an art. Some of the artisans in the Neamţ County are already famous such as those in the villages Târpeşti-Petricani, Timişeşti, Pipirig, Humuleşti and others.

There are many other mask artisans in the Neamţ county villages that work occasionally and are less known.

However, most of the times, contemporary masks have changed their purpose for the playful to the decorative one. This is why their structure has changed – from volumetric to plane and they are made of woven textile by renowned artisans or children in the Neamţ county children’s clubs.

As demonstrated so far, the mask has been a constant occupation of some artisans in the rural communities that has underwent many changes of purpose, shapes, and manufacturing technique, but they are still on demand.


Customs and Traditions

A custom is habit acquired by a settled community and passed down form one generation to the other. Under the circumstances of traditional lifestyle, customs were strictly observed ensuring thus the good order of things within the community. Customs have been observed and preserved owing to their value that endured over the centuries and accepted by human communities. They were generally connected to faith. Each village has its own customs and living and working rules of thumb. Some of them were abandoned, others have been passed down to this day, and there are some others that have been created more recently.

      Traditional customs fall in many categories. The most interesting are work-related customs, e.g. the beginning and the end of an activity, such as gathering the sheep and setting up sheepfolds – in spring, and returning the sheep to their owner, in the autumn; many dos and don’ts in carrying out farming, digging the first trench at the foundation of the house, and hammering the last “nail” in the roof; the prayers at the beginning and at the end of a certain kind of work, and many others. Social customs: the evening sitting or collective work to the benefit of the community, the “hora”, accompanied by the shepherd’s flute, Pan pipe, trumpet, drums. The rich musical and choreographic repertoire was highlighted by many foreign visitors and Romanian scholars. Dimitrie Cantemir wrote, “… the locals in Moldova have over one hundred different dances of which some so skilful that the dancers seem not to touch the ground as if they were flying in the air.” Among the most remarkable ones are the old people’s dances in Borca, “corăghiasca” in Grumăzeşti, “sârba” in Gârcina, and many other dances with local specificity. Religious customs throughout the year: the Easter feast and the churches’ patron saints celebrations. On such occasions, tight rural communities spend time together in merriment and enjoy the beauty of the folk dress. Family customs: the birth and the Christening, the wedding and the funeral – with ceremonies and customs that vary from one village to another, where all the participants would observe the custom of the area. Health related customs of healing some ailment by using remedies and disenchantment and using herbs. Winter season celebrations are the longest, the richest, and the most joyful cycle of folk events. They represent the living archive of the people’s spiritual life, better kept in Moldova and most in the villages of the Neamţ County. In the beginning, they recalled farming and pastoral traditions practiced at the beginning of the new natural cycle. Later on, they turned into a merry display in the village streets or on stage. Winter season traditions in this region display a very rich and varied as well as well preserved repertoire: at Christmas time: children or youth group carolling, the star songs and religious drama (the Bethlehem and the Herods); on New Year: New Years wishes – with the plough, bull, the cattle and sheep bells and even with the ox-driven plough – on New Year’s Eve, and the “sorcova” on New Year’s day, and the most spectacular – masked dances (the she-goat, the deer, the bear, the procession…), the horses’ dance and the outlaws’ drama (Jianu’s and Bujoru’s dance). The entire community takes part in these beautiful and merry traditions, which impress by their message, costumes, props, and music. The various local variants enrich the national repertoire some of them being extremely charming and original, such as the “dumb she-goat” from Timişeşti, the “she-goat on stilts” from Pipirig, the “Valerica deer” from Doljeşti, the bears from Gârcina, the horse riders from Borleşti and Ţibucani, the “ugly ones” from Răuceşti, the “procession” from Piatra Şoimului, the mercenaries from Urecheni, the well-wishing band from Trifeşti, the carollers from Farcaşa, the “hora” from Dobreni, and many others.

Contemporary customs have a more festive character. They engage a large number of people in a ceremonial, competitive, and merry atmosphere: the celebration of the towns and villages, the celebration of the mountain, the celebration of snow, folk drama festival, the First of May or the shepherds’ First of May, community festivals on the village green, the festival of traditions and customs, etc.


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