What do Romanians celebrate on December 1?
At the end of the First World War, a Greater Romania emerged as the country significantly expanded its size and population. This was the result of the 1918 Great Union (Marea Unire), celebrated on December 1, the country's National Day.
December 1 is the celebration of the 1918 unification of the provinces of Transylvania, Banat, Crișana, Maramureș, Bessarabia, and Bucovina, where Romanians were a majority population, with the Kingdom of Romania, made up at the time from Wallachia and Moldavia.
The celebration references a series of proclamations and declarations that happened that year, building up to the provinces' unification, and the December 1, 1918, Alba Iulia proclamation, by which Transylvania, Banat, Crișana, and Maramureș united with the Romanian Kingdom.
The first province to proclaim its union with the kingdom was Bessarabia on March 27, 1918. The province had declared its autonomy and, later, independence after the Russian Revolution of 1917, and, in the spring of 1918, the country's council voted for the union with the Kingdom of Romania. It only lasted for 22 years, until June 28, 1940, when Romania ceded the territory to the Soviet Union.
Bucovina followed on November 28. As the Austro-Hungarian Empire was disintegrating after the end of the First World War, the province elected in October of that year a National Council at a large, national gathering organized at Cernăuți. By the end of November, a motion declaring the union of Bucovina with Romania was adopted and presented to the Romanian government in Iași.
A few days later, on December 1, the Great National Assembly of Alba Iulia was held, and a resolution concerning the union of Transylvania, Banat, Crișana, and Maramureș with Romania was adopted. King Ferdinand received the Alba Iulia union declaration on December 11, and, on the same day, validated the decree approving the union, including that with Bessarabia with Bucovina.
The international recognition of the union came through various international treaties, such as the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919), acknowledging Bucovina passed to the Kingdom of Romania, and the Trianon Treaty, prepared at the Paris Peace Conference in 1920, acknowledging the union of Transylvania, Banat, Crişana, and Maramureş. However, by 1940, the territory of what was the Greater Romania had shrunk as the south of Dobrogea (the Cadrilater area) went to Bulgaria, and Bessarabia and northern Bucovina to the Soviet Union. Northern Transylvania, which went to Hungary the same year, returned to Romania after the Second World War.
December 1, 1918 in Bucharest - The royal family's return from Iaşi
On December 1, 1918, Bucharest was celebrating not only the Great Union but also the return of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie from Iaşi, a former capital Moldavia where the royal family sought refuge during the First World War as Bucharest was under German occupation. A famous photo of the day shows King Ferdinand and Queen Marie riding triumphantly on Calea Victoriei.
The Alba Iulia coronation
On October 15, 1922, King Ferdinand and Queen Maria were crowned as sovereigns of the Greater Romania in Alba Iulia. The coronation ceremony took place inside an Orthodox cathedral built especially for the event, in less than a year. King Ferdinand was offered the steel crown, designed in 1881 for King Carol I, from the steel of a cannon captured at Plevna, during the Independent War.
Footage from the Alba Iulia coronation can be seen below.
December 1 – Romania's National Day
December 1 is celebrated as the country's national day only since 1990. Between 1866 and 1947, the year King Michael was forced to abdicate, the national day was celebrated on May 10, a date marking several significant events in the country's history. On May 10, 1866, Carol I began his 48-year reign, and on May 10, 1881, he was crowned king of the Kingdom of Romania. The date of May 10 is also related to the country's declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire on May 9, 1877. On May 10, 1877, Carol I signed the proclamation of independence issued the previous day, thus giving it the power of a law. Starting 2015, May 10 is again an official holiday, marking Royalty Day (Ziua Regalităţii).
During the Communist period, between 1947 and 1989, Romania celebrated its national day on August 23, marking the day it switched to the side of the Allies, cutting the ties with Nazi Germany. Festivities and parades were organized on this day, mostly serving the personality cult of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, presented by the time's propaganda as "the supreme leader."
The December 1 parade & the Arch of Triumph
Every year, military parades are organized in the country's large cities on December 1. In Bucharest, the parade has as its focal point the Arch of Triumph, with various troops and equipment marching beneath the arch. The landmark monument, modeled after the Paris one, was built initially in 1922 to commemorate the Romanian Army's victory in the First World War and the Great Union of 1918. It was unveiled in its current look in 1936, at a ceremony attended by Queen Marie and her son, King Carol II. More about the history of Bucharest's Arch of Triumph here.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, no parade will be organized this year, only a small ceremony, without the wider public participating, president Klaus Iohannis announced.
The 2018 National Day Parade can be watched below.
More about the 1918 Union
The National Museum of the Union can be visited in Alba-Iulia, including the Union Hall (Sala Unirii, where the Great National Assembly voted the Union of Transylvania with the Kingdom of Romania. Those who cannot make it to Alba Iulia can try a virtual visit here.
The Coronation Cathedral, also in Alba Iulia, was built for the 1922 coronation of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie as monarchs of the Great Romania. It can be explored here.
The Virtual Museum of the Union, a project of the Culture Ministry, gathers historical testimonies from the entire country: photographs, documents, and various items related to the 1918 Union. It is available in English here.
The National Museum of History of Romania hosts the regalia of Romania, while many regional museums gather in their collections various documents and items related to events preceding the union or the union itself.
Actively lobbying Romania's cause at the Paris Peace Conference was Queen Marie, one of the country's most beloved historical figures. The 2019 film Queen Marie of Romania, directed by Alexis Cahill, focuses on the queen's work and the surrounding events. It is available on HBO Go and on the online platform of Happy Cinema.
On the occasion of the 100-year celebration of Romania's 1918 Union, the Romanian Cultural Institute in London launched the Romaniancentenary.org platform, dedicated to covering the events surrounding the union and the personalities involved.