Double the Holidays

I spent the “old” Christmas with my host family after returning earlier that day from the United States

Here in Moldova, many people celebrate the winter holidays (Christmas and New Year) twice!  The first celebration happens on December 25th, with Christmas.  Then, New Year is celebrated on January 1st.  But it’s not over then! Moldovans also celebrate the two holidays based on the “old” calendar, with Christmas falling on January 7th and New Year on January 14th.  In my village, no one really celebrates the first Christmas, but in other parts of the country, it is celebrated.  We wrapped up the end of the holiday season this past Sunday, and to be honest, I’m a little sad to see it go.

Steaua tradition with some 6th grade students
Steaua tradition with some 6th grade students

Moldova has some wonderful traditions to celebrate both Christmas and New Year.  On Christmas (the 7th), groups of carolers go around and sing at various houses throughout the village.  Mostly, the caroling (colinde) is done by women and girls, but sometimes boys and men join them as well.  From January 7th until January 14th, groups of boys go from house to house with a star built of wood and decorated with tinsel and bright paper.  They wear hats they’ve made of bright paper and say prayers and wishes for a happy and healthy new year in front of the religious icons in the house (or, outside the door of the house).  This tradition is called steaua (star).

Uratura by some of my 5th and 6th graders

For New Year, there are two additional traditions.  The day before, on the 13th, groups of boys (and occasionally girls) go from house to house to perform uraturi.  These can best be described as poems or chants that contain wishes for a good new year.  Younger boys will accompany their speaking with a bell, while older boys will often do a whole skit, complete with bells, whips (they whip the ground), and a piece of rope pulled through a metal ridged can.

On the day of the “old” New Year, groups of children and occasionally adults go from house to house and say poems for good wishes in the new year and throw seeds and grain at the inhabitants of each house as good luck for a fruitful harvest in the autumn.

In return for the well wishes, the family that lives in the house gives each child or person candy, money, and cookies.  For the steaua and colinde, each group is also given a colac, or braided round bread.

The traditions are really quite beautiful and fun, and the students were excited each time they realized I lived in the house (a few knew, but others looked at me in surprise).  To see some traditional colinde (carols) and uraturi (chants/skits/poems), and the seed-throwing tradition, check out the video above in which a group of students from the music and dance school in our village perform for a national radio station.  Almost all of the students (except for two that are playing instruments) are either my current students at school or former students, and they did an exceptional job!  The video is long, so here are the times for each part: the colinde are from 2:25 to 9:53, the uratura is from 10:03 to 14:04, the seed throwing and well wishes are from 14:05 to 14:44, and the last part is the hora, Moldova’s traditional dance, performed the way it is done in my village (each village’s hora is a bit different) from 14:44 to 16:07.  Enjoy!

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