Your New Holiday is Here

Holidays tell the stories of those who celebrate them, so when Thailand celebrated its 3-into-1 Loy Krathong festival a few weeks ago, it mirrored the blending of history, religion, and ancestral veneration in the country. Christmas, the single most dominant cultural event in human history, is bustling with familiar songs, colorful lights, and caffeinated advertising, all reflecting the day’s mixture of family, faith, and materialism in a moment when all three are disoriented but boisterous anyway. Surely National Days are a simpler story? On such and such day the war ended, enough blood was shed, and the oppressor was cast off.

But what if a country came about in stages and by diplomacy instead of war? Where do you fix its birth? Italy knows this question, with their unification often listed as 1861, or 1866 if you’re Venetian and 1871 if you like Rome. But my favorite example of a holiday reflecting national evolution comes from Europe’s best kept secret: Romania.

Christmas market in Sibiu, photo from this website

The country’s original national day recalled May 10, 1877 when the first King of Romania, Carol von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen ratified the Declaration of Independence from the Ottoman Empire. The timing was extra juicy since May 10, 1866 was when he had first set foot on Romanian soil. For king and country!

That worked until the turmoil after World War II, when the rising Communist Party forced the king from the throne in 1947. They couldn’t very well have people celebrating the monarchy anymore, so they moved to a new day commemorating victory against Nazi Germany. Liberation from Fascist Occupation Day, or Day of the Anti-Fascist Armed Insurrection, was August 23. This was essential for claiming membership in the Good Guys, and to distance Romania from the muddled early years of the war when a Far Right political party overcame the king’s neutrality to send Romanian troops to reclaim territory seized by the Soviet Union…alongside Germany. Romania later switched sides and fought against the Nazis, and the new country needed everyone to remember that.

Romania’s experience of state communism came to a sudden halt in 1989, and the emerging nation again needed to distance itself from the recent past and pave the way for a new sense of unity after communism’s enforced homogeneity. Romania is composed of three former principalities, and fortuitously enough for those searching the road behind for a path forward, they had united in 1918, in the wake of the previous World War. That moment of hope and unity rising from the ashes of war was a potent symbol, and gave the country Great Union Day.

This emphasis on unity and Romania’s potential (before it got pummeled by the 20th century) is illustrative of what Romania seeks to be today. It is a surprisingly varied quilt of heritage and histories, united in an eager optimism to be part of something bigger and better ahead. As Europe and the wider world try to reconcile where we came from and where we’d like to go, I find Romania’s Great Union Day a fitting reflection and reminder for all of us.

And when is the holiday? Why, December 1 of course. Today Romanians will be feasting on fasole cu ciolan, a hearty stew of cannellini beans with a tender roasted pork shank, the traditional meal for the holiday. Whatever you’re eating, whether you have your own muddled past or pristine future, wishing you a happy Great Union Day!

This was tweeted by the US mission to NATO in 2018, the 100th anniversary of the Union

(To learn more about remarkable Romania, check out our tour page here. There are still a few spots available for 2023.)