Each month in 2021 I plan to publish a short post about a holiday in the world that I believe is little known in this country. It is only coincidence that the first holiday I chose for January is Unification Day in Romania. But the synchronicity of this January holiday reflecting the concept of unification seems appropriate for our country which faces challenges to our unity on this, our 59th Inauguration Day. Can we learn anything from the Romanian Day of Unification, a holiday celebrating an event going back to 1862, as we observe our every-four-year Presidential Inauguration Day?
January 24, 2021, will be the 159th anniversary of the Romanian Day of Unification. I suspect most Americans may know little more about Romania than from their memories of the Christmas Day trial and execution in 1989 of that country’s despotic ruler, Nicolai Ceașescu, and that Dracula came from there. And that may raise the question in your mind of just what was unified on January 24 in 1862 that merits celebration now?
To explain, it’s necessary to go back to the second half of the nineteen century when much of central Europe remained under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy. Their reach didn’t include the principalities that eventually unified as Romania in 1862, but both the Austro-Hungarians and the Ottoman Turks had claimed portions of the regions that eventually became Romania for centuries. That situation gave rise to leaders such as Vlad Țepeș, better known as Vlad the Impaler, who later served as the model for Dracula.
Though Țepeș played no role in the unification of Romania (which followed his rule by more than 400 years) he became a Romanian hero because of his bold stance against both the Austro-Hungarians and the Ottomans. Țepeș ruled Wallachia, the southernmost of two principalities that had existed independently side-by-side with one another and the Austro-Hungarians. The other was Moldavia in the northeast.
On January 24, 1862, Wallachia and Moldavia joined one another as the Unified Principalities. Another four years were needed to prepare a constitution that formalized the name Romania. It took another fifty years for three other regions, Transylvania in the west, Bessarabia in the east, and Bukovina in the north, to join with the Romanian Kingdom in 1918 at the conclusion of the First World War. December 1 marks that event as the Day of Great Union, the holiday considered Romania’s national day.
What impresses me most about the January 24 Day of Unification celebrations is that it was the beginning of unifying land into Romanian. It wasn’t the final unification. The holiday marks a smaller union within what eventually became modern Romania. (Unfortunately, that Romanian no longer exists. At the end of World War II the Allies snipped off bits of Bessarabia and Bukovina and turned them over to the Soviet Union which shrunk Romania to its current boundaries.) Nonetheless, Romania celebrates both the greater unification and the earlier, smaller unification.
And so I ponder: When will we in the United States begin to find ways to recognize and observe signs that mark our unification moments, both in the past and in the future? Are we prepared to search for common interests and begin celebrating them in place of remembering and observing events or symbols that divide us?
I hope that this day, Inauguration Day, will begin our search for healing.