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.
I got to experience my first Moldovan wedding this week! It was definitely interesting, to say the least!
Moldovan weddings start in the morning, generally on a Friday, with the signing of documents and a short, simple church ceremony. I got up fairly early to get dressed and do my hair and such. My host mom and host aunt had approved my dress (they wanted to make sure it was nice enough) a few days prior, but were a little worried about my hair and makeup, as I hadn’t known if I’d be able to go until a few days before, and therefore weren’t able to get my hair professionally done (which is quite common). I did a French braid to the base of my hair, and then a low pony-tail. It looked nice, and they seemed to think it was fine.
Around 10 AM, my host cousin came, and I went with her and some other family members to the bride’s parents’ house. The house was a whirlwind of activity. Everyone was getting dressed and getting ready. In the front room of the house, a table was set up in the middle. This was covered by a nice, white tablecloth. On the table, there were four intricate loaves of bread on each corner, accompanied by piles of grain. In the center of the table, was a beautiful religious artwork. Unlike in the United States, where it is considered “bad luck” for the groom to see the bride in her dress before the ceremony, no such thing exists in Moldova. Both the bride and groom were getting ready at the house, as were the rest of the wedding party and many family members. Once the bride and groom were dressed and ready, the nasi (“nah-sh”), which are the “wedding godparents” arrived. In the Eastern Orthodox faith, you get godparents both when you are baptized as an infant (called “cumatra”) and when you get married (called “nasi”). The nasi are another married couple that can model a good marriage. My host parents, Pasa (Pash-ah) and Kosta (Koh-sta), were the nasi for the couple that was getting married. The nasi are incredibly important and have a MAJOR role in the wedding. They are as important, perhaps even more important, as the couple getting married. When they arrived, they, along with the couple getting married and members of the wedding party, circled around the table in the entrance room. They scattered the grain on the floor.
After this, some photos and videos were taken at the house by the professional photographers. I was included in some of the photos. There were some shots of wine (and cognac), and some traditions involving intricate loaves of bread that were braided in circles. Everyone got a small piece of the bread. Then, water was splashed on the ground, and the couple walked over it. We then drove to Chisinau for the church ceremony.
The church ceremony was held at a gorgeous church. Unlike in the United States, the church ceremony is very small and rather short. Only the nasi, the wedding party, the immediate family members of the bride (parents and younger brother), and immediate family members of the nasi were present. There were maybe 15 people at most. The church ceremony was led by a priest. My Romanian is still rather limited, so I’m not really sure what was said during the ceremony. Both the bride and the groom are “crowned” at one point in the ceremony, but I don’t know the significance of this. At the end of the service, the priest, the nasi, and the bride and groom circle around a small altar, then exit the church.
The church ceremony was followed by professional photos both at the church and at a nearby botanical park. Again, I was included in the photos at the park. This took a couple (few?) hours. We then headed to the main wedding ceremony at a restaurant in Ialoveni to start setting things up.
The wedding venue was gorgeous and very modern. I waited with the wedding party and bride and groom until the actual celebration started around 7 PM. Guests arrive in pre-determined waves. First, the wedding party (who were actually already there) “arrives” around 6:30. The bride and groom stood on a small stage. Each guest greets the bride and groom (kiss on each cheek and a handshake), and gives them a gift. I went up first with the wedding party (I just did as I was told!), and again later. Then, around 7:00, the groom’s guests arrive. They wait outside until the announcer announces their arrival. There was music, and the groom’s parents were the first to enter. These guests each greeted the bride and groom and then helped themselves to a fruit buffet. About 20 minutes later, the bride’s guests arrived. They also waited outside until the announcer welcomed them in, accompanied by the same music, then greeted the bride and groom. The nasi get to invite their own guests in addition to the guests of the bride and groom. Their guests, along with the nasi themselves, arrived about 20 minutes after the bride’s guests. As my host parents were the nasi, I re-entered the venue with them. They had brought flowers for me to bring up. Finally, all the guests had arrived, and the celebration could begin (but not until more photos were taken!).
I would love to share all of the traditions, but there were so many, that I’m sure I will leave some out. The order might also be wrong, as the wedding was very long and therefore it’s a bit hard to remember what order things happened in. There was some dancing, and then the first “masa” (special meal) was served. The food was pretty good- there were grilled veggies and meat, bread, salad, and other dishes, as well as champagne, vodka, and whiskey at each table. The “shot” glasses were like mini wine glasses, with stems.
Throughout the rest of the night, there was another meal, many toasts and speeches, and lots of dancing. About 75% of the dancing was the traditional Moldovan dance, the hora. There were traditional dancers there that performed several times. At some point in the night (or morning!), the bride and groom did their “special” dance. This seems to carry the same significance as the “first dance” in the U.S., but didn’t occur at the beginning. This was a choreographed, beautiful dance. There was even steam and special lighting for effect.
Like in the U.S., there was a bouquet toss. As far as I could tell, it has the same significance. There were only about 7 unmarried young women present (including me) to participate. Thankfully, I did not catch the bouquet. Another tradition, that I really liked, was the transferring of the veil. Towards the end of the wedding, the bride’s veil is removed. The veil is then placed on the head of the next woman present that is going to get married. That woman, along with her future husband, then have their own dance. After the dance, the veil is returned and put carefully away.
Various traditions were also scattered throughout. Towards the end of the evening the bride and groom were presented with their gifts. As I mentioned before, the nasi are very important during the ceremony. They are also expected to give certain gifts, including a significant amount of money (I read online that they are expected to give the equivalent of 1 to 2 years worth of salary, but don’t know how accurate that is). They presented their gifts first, taking each gift out and “using” it. There was a brush for the bride and a comb for the groom. There were a number of blankets, which were piled on the bride and groom, as well as linens, tablecloths, and other things. The bride’s head was covered with a sort of bonnet, and a fancy apron was put on her as well. After the nasi had presented their gifts, the parents of both the bride and groom and some other guests also presented their gifts, piling on more and more blankets to the point where they wouldn’t actually stay up.
Cake was served at the very end of the celebration. Once the cake was eaten, there was another song or two, and then we headed out. It was about 4:30 in the morning when we left. A rutiera (bus) had been hired to take many of us, including the bride and groom, back to Costesti. Everyone was taken to the end of the road that I live on. When we got to the end of the road, we got off the bus. It was about 5:00 AM then, and the sky was already pretty light. A couple of people met us at the end of the road with a wheelbarrow piled with straw and topped with a blanket. The nasi (my host parents) were told to get on, and were then quickly transported in the wheelbarrow to our gate and right up to the house! It was one of my favorite parts of the night! The bride and groom, and several other family members, gathered at our house to celebrate some more. I can’t tell you what happened, because I needed to be at class at 8:30 and went to sleep to catch about 2 hours of sleep. Everyone had either left or was sleeping when I headed off to school at 8:15.
My first Moldovan wedding was quite the experience! It was a bit overwhelming, mostly because I don’t know much Romanian yet, but it was also a great thing to experience! I was so glad to experience this so soon after arriving here!