Yesterday was Easter, both according to the Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christian calendars. This is actually a pretty rare occasion, as usually the two Easters do not fall on the same Sunday. Here in Moldova, Easter is by far the number one most important and biggest holiday of the year.
Most Moldovans (though certainly not all) participate in post, or a fast, for the entirety of the 40 days of lent. This means that for the 40 days leading up to Easter, they do not eat meat, fish, butter, milk, and other dairy products. They also do not drink wine or other alcohol. They also do not consume oil for a number of days throughout this time (though not the entire 40 days). The most devout Orthodox Christians do a full fast (no food) for the final 3 days before Easter. They are allowed to eat wafers and drink Holy water during these 3 days, but nothing else.
The week before Easter is also full of a number of various services, including several that last six to twelve hours long (during which you stand or kneel on a hard surface for the entire time- there are no pews or chairs in churches in Moldova, except for the elderly or sick). I went with my host parents to a service on Friday night. We arrived around 5PM and my host dad and I stayed until nearly 11PM (my host mom stayed for the entirety of the service, which didn’t end until about 4:30AM). Towards the end of when I was there, everyone gathered with candles and followed a procession made of a number of men holding a cross, some banners, and the lid of a coffin around the outside of the church. I believe this service was both to honor the saints and to mark Good Friday, the death of Jesus.
Saturday was full of preparations for the following day: my host mom made and decorated pasca, special Easter bread, as well as all of the food for Easter morning. We also made sure the house and outdoor spaces were perfectly in order. On Saturday night, my host mom and sister left to go to the church for the all-night service around 8PM. My host dad and I went to bed, hoping to get some sleep before we got up at 3AM to head to the church as well. We arrived at the church around 4 in the morning. The church was packed full of people, and there were several hundred gathered outside and on the nearby roads. My host dad and I waited outside for a bit before my host sister and host mom found us, and then I was ushered inside the church because my host mom was worried it was cold outside.
Inside the church, everything was lit only by candles. There were songs and scripture readings, and then everyone went in a line so that the priest could put a cross of scented oil on each person’s forehead. After this part was finished, everyone headed outside and lined the roads near the church. Each family stood together and had brought a basket full of food and treats to be blessed by the priest. I couldn’t see everyone, but my host mom told me there were probably about 2,000 plus people there. As we stood outside, it was still dark and it was also drizzling slightly, so the candles didn’t stay lit very well. The priest passed by each person twice, first with incense, and then with water. He dipped a bunch of basil in holy water and then sprayed in over the food gathered in baskets and the people. It was actually a lot of water- my whole face and front was soaked.
After, everyone walked home and broke their fast with a large and heavy meal, complete with wine. All before 7 in the morning! Once everyone’s bellies are full, everyone heads to bed and sleeps for the next several hours, then they have another large meal and more wine. This was repeated once again, after another nap, at night.