The Ghost of Socialist Christmas Past
Every Christmas for the past 25 years, Romanians have remembered the revolution of December 1989, and the communist regime that ended with it. Only few still think fondly of those days; many remember the regime for what it really was: a time of poverty, fear, and lack of freedom.
By the early 1980s, Ceausescu had depleted Romania’s accumulated capital. The general population suffered most, for instance by trying to pay off Romania’s entire external debt—approximately 13 billion dollars—enduring numerous privations, including the rationing of hot water and electricity. Perhaps one of the most trying limitations was the “scientific alimentation program”, which stipulated maximum quantities of goods a person could buy each month. These purchases could only be made with a special card, where these quantities would be checked off. The ration included the following quantities per month:
Chicken – 1 kilogram
Pork or beef – 500g (when unavailable, replaced by canned meats from the USSR)
Cold cuts or liver pate – 800g
Cheese – 500g (every 3 months)
Butter – 100g
Oil – 1 litre
Sugar – 1 kg
Flour – 1 kg (every 3 months)
Eggs – 8-12
Bread – 300g/day
The government provided various explanations for these limitations, ranging from the state providing citizens with a normal and balanced diet, to preventing ‘speculators’ from stocking up food. The ration card didn’t, however, ensure that food would indeed be available, and many of these products could not be acquired unless you were among the first in the queue. This in time led to the saying that a ‘relation’ in communism—such as a store worker who could ensure you’d get the full ration or more—was more valuable than an entire estate in capitalism.
After 1990, Romanians suffered no more institutionalized compromises on their Christmas dinner menu, or any of their other dinners for that matter. But perhaps the thing they were happiest about was being able to celebrate Christmas without the fear of being reported to the secret services by their neighbors.