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The „Bear” Totem, kept in the tradition of the Romanian winter holidays


„Bear Dance” is a unique event in Romania, an ancient tradition in the area of ​​Moldova, the locals being eager to enter the herd of bears. In fact, in Comănești there is a real competition between the herds of bears, and many wishers are on real waiting lists before they are accepted.



The ritual of bears is a custom never seen before, left by the Geto-Dacians, say the locals, and which gathers people from everywhere every year. Dressed in a real bear fur, 2 meters high and 60 kilograms, the villagers go from gate to gate, play the Bear Dance and wish for the coming year.

Even children participate in the ritual, despite the fact that the props weigh quite a lot, but the weight is a challenge: „it’s a pride to play bear skin”, says a boy. Take the lads to the „Bear School” to catch the rhythm of the dance, to learn the game steps of the bears and the irodes. No matter how worthy and hard-working they may be, they are only allowed to play in the big crowd at the age of 18. About every year the fog consists of five to ten „bear skins”, a few irodes, drummers and bears (trainers or bear owners) – two for each bear. The drummers are dressed in red blouses, black trousers with red whips and wear military hats adorned with beads and mirrors. The bears are dressed in the uniforms of foresters or hunters, with two red sticks crossed on their chests, and the Eros in national costumes, with swords at the hips, thighs tied around their necks from which they blow as long as they can, and high headdresses adorned with feathers, tinsel and tricolour ribbons.

The ancient meaning of the Bear Game is to celebrate the strength of the animal that overcomes winter, the regeneration of nature (the bear is „beaten” and „dies”, then „revives”) and the flow of the seasons. It is possible that some elements of the custom also come from the tradition of bear gypsies who roamed the villages in order to „heal” with „power”, or, rather, with the weight of the bear, those with saddle pain. The bears are „tamed” by the threat of „cearlău”, a beautifully carved stick, given by the village elders. The head of such a popular theatre troupe declares that “the tradition is left to our grandparents, it was taken over by our parents and then by us. I was born with the habit. The tradition starts from Valea Trotușului. There, at weddings and at any event, the bear is played. And now, during the holidays, non-stop. As in football, as in any sport, you look left and right and you learn, any beginning is difficult. I put the bear fur on my back for the first time at the age of 6 and if I feel good and think about it I am somewhere 46 years old since I go year after year. The intensity of this show is extreme: „all my childhood as a memory of the period of the winter holidays are marked by the memory of the bears that walked all the streets of the city and danced so beautifully and beat those drums, the bells rang and gave you tears instantly … I was clinging to the window waiting for them … And the bear actors, when they saw someone at the window, they danced and rolled just to see that we were smiling .. my heart fills with joy and my eyes with tears when I remember the emotions of the moment ..absolutely gorgeous ” (Munteanu Elena Loredana).



A series of legends and rituals from the traditional Romanian culture contains the image of the bear as a mythical figure, with roots in the hunting communities or in the hypothetical Dacian cult of the bear. both have the bear as a reference, especially since a mask made of a bear’s head was used in rituals. Hence Romulus Vulcănescu’s hypothesis that „Zalmoxis was a Grand Pontiff of a religious congregation, the Brotherhood of Bears.”

In Romanian mythology, the bear is invested with multiple apotropaic (protective), therapeutic and meteorological virtues. In the past, there was even the belief that a new-born, if given with bear fat on his body, at the first wash, gains the strength and luck of the bear. The sick or frightened were smoked with their hair cut from the fur of the wilderness or it was customary for the physically weak or sick to be „baptized”, receiving the name of Bear or Bear, to ward off disease and death, the ritual being different from the Christian one.

Mask games in Moldova are archaic, agrarian and pastoral customs of many millennial tradition, which take place on the occasion of the New Year. The Bear Game is the most spectacular of all the mask games found in the villages of Bucovina, because it seems that the bear was revered in Bucovina more than in any other part of Romania.



Totemizing bears is a part of animism. Is animism a religion? Considered first for a primitive religion, animism is best understood as a way of seeing the world, present at any time in the human mind. In animism, faith is not dogma, but lived experience, and totemism, which shares certain features with animism, was initially considered to be the manifestation of a prelogical mentality. It attributes to all human and non-human beings the same type of interiority, subjectivity, intentionality. He places the difference on the side of physical properties and manifestations: appearance, body shape, ways of acting, behavior.

The photos in this album are the captures from several moments of the specifically Romanian winter holidays in the historical province of Moldova. They belong to the photographers Sorin Onişor, Aurel Constantin Păduraru, Marian Sterea, Dan Dima and Annika Sandor. Beautiful moments that outline rather the personality of popular artists and emotions, the impressive contrast between human fragility and titanic fur costumes.



(Sources and photo credits: Facebook;;; ; Digi24TV)



Posted by on ianuarie 1, 2021. Filed under CULTURAL,EVENIMENT,HOME,NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry