March 8th, International Women’s Day

Although Women’s Day is an international holiday, it isn’t celebrated much in the United States.  In the former Soviet states, however, it is a huge holiday.  Here in Moldova, there is no school and most businesses are closed.  There are celebrations the day before at schools and other places of work, and on March 8th, everyone celebrates.

On Wednesday, our 7th grade students prepared a small celebration and concert for the teachers.  They recited poems about mothers and women, sang, and spoke about the importance of women.  After, one of the few male teachers at our school presented the rest of us with flowers and kind words.  We followed that with a small masa (meal)- just tea, bread, some vegetables, and vegan sausages since it’s currently post (a fasting period- in this case lent).

On Thursday, our village had a large concert at the casa de cultura (cultural house/community center).  It was held in the afternoon with song, poems, dance, and even some surprises for a few women in our community.  A number of students from my school performed various songs.  The students who learn at our village’s school and music school performed both traditional songs and dances.  Generally, only the older students (grades 8-9) get to perform, but on Thursday the youngest group (mostly in grades 1-3) and medium group (mostly grades 4-7 but with a couple of 3rd graders as well) also performed.   The older group, which performs often across Moldova and even in other countries, performed a new dance that was really beautiful.

A number of women in the village were given certificates and gifts for being great mothers and raising kids that the community is particularly proud of, as well as a younger mother with 6 kids.  The first woman to receive a certificate was also surprised by the community.  After she received her certificate, a man from a gift store presented her with a cake and a card from her son, who lives abroad in France and she hadn’t seen in quite some time.  Then, after the card was read, the emcee announced there was another surprise, and first that son and then all of her kids and grandchildren entered.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the entire auditorium.  Another older woman received a similar surprise, with kids living abroad surprising her.

After the local groups performed, there was a short intercession, and then a well-known Moldovan orchestra took the stage.  A number of well-known singers also joined them, including one that is from my village.

In all, it was a beautiful celebration full of good music, and special moments.


Last week, Moldovans celebrated one of my favorite holidays, which is called Marțişor (pronounced mar-tsee-shore).  This holiday is celebrated every year on March 1st and is an ancient tradition that celebrates the coming of spring.  In ancient times, the marțişor (amulets) were created using small pebbles painted white and red and arranged on a string.  The colors red and white came from pagan traditions.  Blood, or the red on the marțişor, symbolized life, fertility, and worship.  White symbolized snow, ice, and clouds.

From our Peace Corps language instructors: “At the beginning of 19th century the beautiful Amulet was found in all Romanian regions. Especially children and women wore around their necks or on their left hands two woolen yarns (one red, one white) knitted together and a small silver or golden coin hung on them. The belief was that those who wore that Amulet were protected and would have good luck in the next year. It was written in books that young Moldavan girls wore Mărţişor from March 1st till March 12th. After two weeks, they used to tie their hair with that special red-white yarn waiting to see the first spring birds coming to their village. Only after that event, the young girls took out the Amulet and hang it to the first tree they saw in blossom.”

Today, Marțişor is celebrated in all Romanian regions (Romania and Moldova), as well as Macedonia and Albania.  In Moldova, it is a symbol of spring and joy.  By exchanging them, people are showing a gesture of love, friendship, respect, and appreciation.  They are worn on the left side on their chests starting on March 1st and throughout the month.  After removing them, they are hung on a tree to bring a good harvest.

At school, each teacher is given marțişori from students, and outside of school, they are also exchanged among adults and children.  Some of the marțişor are handmade, while others are purchased.  I received a few marțişor from students, as well as my host parents.  My host dad also gave me a larger marțişor that is meant to hang on the wall and which was hand-crocheted by a woman in our village.

It’s a beautiful tradition and one that I think I may bring back with me to the United States.  Happy Marțişor!

100 Zile | 100 Days Celebration

Two weeks ago, I was invited by one of my partner teachers to go to her daughter’s 1st grade class’s 100 Days Celebration.  Each year, the 1st grade classes celebrate the first 100 days of school with a big performance and party.  They dressed up and each girl wore a big yellow bow in her hair while each boy wore one at his neck.

The students recited long poems, sang, danced, and even put on a couple short skits.  Each child’s mother (or grandmother in a couple cases) attended.  Each child, with the help of his/her parents, made a craft with 100 items (100 butterflies, 100 bees, 100 candies, etc.), which they presented.

After the performances, each student presented his or her mom with a present and then the kids danced with their moms.  At the end, the students and parents gathered in their classroom and ate a delicious and beautiful cake, followed by a full masa (meal/party) with plenty of food and drink.

The kids did an amazing job and it was wonderful to see them proudly present what they’ve learned this year to their parents.  I don’t teach 1st grade, so I also got to know some more students at the school as well as their moms and grandmas.

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!

Sfantul Andrei Traditions

Our very securely bolted gate

Tomorrow (December 13) is a holiday in Moldova that is celebrated on the saint day of Sfantul Andrei.  I think it’s one of the most interesting of Moldovan holidays and there are many varied traditions associated with it, most of which occur tonight.

Of the traditions, the most prominent (and most unusual to us Americans) is the stealing of gates.  The tradition is very old.  Tonight, boys and young men in the village will steal the front gates from the houses of the girl or young woman they like.  They hide the gate and the following morning the girl is supposed to go find the gate and return it to its place.  I’ve been assured (thankfully) that our gate is impossible to remove but I’ve heard numerous stories told by my host family of years past.  One year, before my host dad bolted it so securely there’s no way to remove it, a neighbor boy stole it and hid it in a river bed.  Another gate, this one wooden and therefore lighter and easier to take, was once stolen from a neighbor’s house and was found in a tree at the mayor’s office the next morning.

There are other traditions as well, though many of them are rarely celebrated today.  My host mom remembers several from when she was a girl, though she thinks there were more of them.  Girls would take a rooster from the pen and take it inside.  They’d place it in front of a mirror and put a dish of water and a dish of food in front of it.  If the rooster drank the water first, it meant they would marry a man who liked to drink, but if the rooster ate the food first, it meant their future husband would really like to eat.

Another traditions was to go to the neighborhood well with a group of friends.  At the well, they would fill their mouths with water and then return back to the house with the water still in their mouth.  They would then mix the water with various flours and grains to make little biscuits.  These were placed in a line in front of a dog.  If the dog chose your biscuit to eat first, it meant you’d be the first to marry.

Yet another tradition was to take thin wooden poles/branches and decorate them and place them outside overnight.  If the pole had warped or twisted, it meant your future husband wouldn’t be very handsome, but if it remained straight, it meant your husband would be very good looking.

While these traditions seem a bit strange to an American, my host mom remembers them fondly and my students are looking forward to the holiday.  My host mom said I’m the only “domnișoara” (unmarried young woman) in the neighborhood, so we’ll see if anyone tries to steal our gate tonight!