Slanina - Romanian traditional bacon
Romanian Slanina. Picture made by Irina Dragos

Ignatius takes place every year on December 20th. It is one of the oldest Romanian traditions that coincides with the feast day Saint Ignatius Martyr, thus gaining a religious significance. The custom of sacrificial pig is a pre-Christian tradition rooted in the ritual slaughter at the end of a year for the welfare of year to come.

The custom of Ignatium pig slaughter is still practiced in the Romanian countryside where households keep pigs in their yard so as to have fresh meat during the Christmas season from which to prepare traditional Romanian delicacies, such as meat in aspic, stew, and sausages. Ritual pig slaughter starts early morning and is an activity in which the whole family participates with joy, because there are many things to do that until tonight, many chores to be completed.

After cleaning the pig, the family’s children climb on it and “ride” it. The best piece to eat usually is the tail and children fight for this piece of “firstling”. The skin from the belly creates disputes between family members over who should get the biggest and best piece. The houswife hurries to finish up all the food by nightfall: sausages, jelly, bacon (slanina) and other dishes that will delight the Christmas table.

After cutting and sorting the meat, the host prepares a meal for all the people who helped cut the pig. The dish, traditionally called “Almsgiving pig”, is obtained by roasting, in a large pot over a woodstove, a piece of meat cut from all parts of slaughtered pigs: pieces of muscle, liver, bacon, rib, and jaw.

Usually they stand around the table after the housewife has wiped and cleaned all the marks of the sacrifice. The meal consists of pork steak, polenta (mamaliga) and a bowl of pickles and the housewife places a quantity of food enough to reach all participating diners. Meanwhile, the hungry helpers eat up and, along with food, drink a plum brandy or a traditional boiled brandy.

Here, however, comes the contradiction between tradition, religion and global legislation. It is known that regarding fasting, the Orthodox Christian church is extremely severe, but the Almsgiving pig festival is held in ‘post’ (a period of fasting when not meat or drink can be consumed), often with great joy and abundant food and boiled brandy (tuica fiarta).