Dărmăneşti city keeps local traditions, especially those on Christmas and New Year. The noisiest large-scale manifestations which are practiced in Dărmăneşti, on New Year’s Eve, in the first and second day, belong to the folk theatre: the dance of the bear, the dance of the goat, the wedding, Mocănaşii, and Jianul.
The traditional dance of bears from Dărmăneşti is the most popular winter tradition from Trotuş River Valley. It is the main holiday attraction in Bacău County, Comăneşti and Dărmăneşti area, Slănic resort and in most villages on Trotuş Valley on New Year’s Eve. The old significance of this dance is to celebrate the animal’s force that overcomes winter, natural regeneration (the bear is “beaten” and “dies”, after which it “comes back to life”), and the flow of seasons.
All cohorts were and are accompanied by many beautiful masks (characterising old men and women, the new and the old year, doctors, priests, hunters, grooms and brides, merchants, Turks, shepherds, etc.) symbolizing professions, ethnic origins, etc.
Some citizens customed their mask and their secret and unknown outfit, modified their voice, making a strong point of not being recognized. The new persona improvises a funny, satirical, spontaneous, creative dialogue with the host on households, agriculture, and cattle, on jealousy, criticism of teachers, doctors, priests, foresters, and shepherds, mocking and criticizing the evils of society. After taking their masks off, follows good wealth and health wishes, and the hosts offer wine, something to eat as snacks, and sweets for the masks.
These habits are very old and come from a Thracian celebration called “Brumalia” (comes from the word brumă, which means frost, a folk name for November) and has origins from Dionysus traditions, when masked men became women and vice versa. Saturnalia was done with great joy feasts, games and mutual visits, and on Kalends’ celebrations (the beginning of a New Year), people partied at feasts and drinking bouts which lasted all night, the New Year and the Solstice being celebrated.
Numerous cohorts have ugly masks too! Masks are folk creations which indirectly tell a lot of things about the local people and which evolve from one period to another. Some of the masks continue to evoke the glorious past of the Romanian people in the struggle for independence, freedom and justice. Other masks represent people and events which influenced or still influence the community, well or badly.
The Dance of the Bear from Dărmăneşti is part of the same folk theatre, mentioned above. It is organized each year on the 31st of December, and has its origins in the times when people tamed animals, or tough and rough representations, when slaves performed in front of aristocrats, fighting against beasts in special arenas, probably during Roman times.
Each neighbourhood has its cohort formed of people dressed in bear furs, after bear trainers example, bears, drummers, Herods, and masked men. “The bears” are young men dressed in original bear furs, nicely decorated at their heads, with golden buttons, red tassels and colourful ribbons. Being dressed with these costumes, they growl as bears. The bear trainers carry a big stick in one hand, embellished and sealed with metal of which “the bear” knows well to listen, and in the other hand they carry a big strainer, beautifully decorated with golden buttons whereon plates are placed and bring a particular rattling sound. This sound is made because of the trainers’ wielding skill and constitutes the rhythm of the dance. The drummers have large drums, dressed as the others, in national costumes, with white gloves, and after the Albanian customs, on their heads wearing a cap and red shirts, all decorated with colourful beads. Herods, the boys and girls that take part in the ceremony, are nicely dressed in national costumes, wearing a long pleated skirt from Oltenia area with red, black and white stripes, and on their heads some tall hats covered with colourful paper ribbons. Each carries a sword in their hands, the only symbol of the historical significance of killing children under two years by King Herod’s orders, to find and kill baby Jesus.
This specific Dance of the Bear from Dărmăneşti became a conglomeration of traditions, the walking of the bear, Herods’ dance and the Masked Men representations, all having starting points in customs practiced in the distant past. The authorities have taken steps to join this tradition in UNESCO intangible heritage, along with Doina (a sad song either about one's home or about love, composed like an epic ballad) unique in the world and a ritual acrobatic dance, called Căluşari.