Although the text of all colinde is concerned with the events of the Nativity, certain elements of the folk rituals performed around Christmas are probably pre-Christian in origin, having their roots in the Roman Saturnalia and pagan rituals related to the winter solstice and soil fertility.
In terms of artistic mastery of verse and melody, colinde occupy an important place in the creation of the Romanian people. They form a unity with doine, popular ballads and songs of bravery, with tales, riddles, proverbs and sayings. Coming from the world of village communities, colinde preserve some of the oldest Romanian poetic achievements. They are inspired by the Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition, by the religious services and by the iconography. Colinde have had a role in preserving and defending the Orthodox faith when heterodox proselytizing tried to break the unity of the Orthodox faith, and to dismantle, at the same time, national unity. The Mother of God, who occupies a central place in piety and Orthodox worship, is present everywhere in Romanian colinde, together with her beloved son, Savior Jesus Christ.
In traditional Romanian rural society, preparations for colinde started well in advance (sometimes weeks) before Christmas. The village youth (usually boys) would begin to form groups in different places and designate a leader in order to practice singing in unison. These groups are called cete de colindători, and their numbers vary from region to region. Then, starting on Christmas Eve, the groups would go to different houses and begin singing. In some villages, they go first to the mayor's house, followed by the teacher's house, whereas in other parts there is no pre-established order. The families would then invite them into the house, and give them different small gifts such as nuts, dried fruits and colaci.
Examples of colinde with religious subjects are "Astăzi s-a născut Hristos" (Today Christ was born), "Moș Crăciun cu plete dalbe" (Santa Claus with white tress) and "O, ce veste minunată!" (O, what wonderful news!).
- Zoe Petre. "Originile păgâne ale colindelor de Crăciun". Historia.ro (in Romanian).[permanent dead link]
- "O scurtă istorie a colindului". Descoperă.ro (in Romanian). 9 December 2009.
- Prof. Dr. Nicolae Necula. "Colindele în viața și spiritualitatea credincioșilor români". CreștinOrtodox.ro (in Romanian).