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!

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!

Balul Absolventilor (Graduates Ball)

The ninth graders awaiting their diplomas. (PC: Amir F.)

This past weekend, my ninth grade students had their “Balul Absolvenţilor”, or Graduates Ball.  This is a bit of a mixture between a graduation ceremony and prom.  It is also the last step for the students before they are truly finished with their mandatory schooling.  From my understanding, in many villages and towns these can be quite extravagant events, but because it was during the fasting period, my school’s celebration was a bit more laid back.

The teachers looking on as our school director wishes the graduates success and happiness in the future. (PC: Amir F.)

The students dressed up very nicely (girls in gowns, boys in collared shirt and tie/bow-tie) and their parents and teachers gathered with them in the school courtyard.  The evening started with a ceremony, and the students received their diplomas and did a few performances (some singing, poem recitations, and dancing).

This was followed by a masa (meal/party) inside for everyone.  Though it was supposedly a “simple” masa, it was still pretty extravagant- tons of food and drinks.  After some toasts and eating, the students went outside for a dance while the adults continued to eat and drink.  After everyone had plenty of time to eat, the adults were invited outside for dancing together with the students.  The music was traditional and popular Moldovan music, and there were several different hora (Moldovan traditional dance) dances.  After quite a while of dancing, everyone returned inside for round two of the masa and the students continued their dance outside.

The entire night was beautiful and memorable.  It was also a bit bittersweet.  After this summer, most of the students will go on to school or work in other towns, villages, and perhaps even countries.  I won’t probably see many of them much after this.  At the beginning of the year, this was a group of students that was a bit difficult.  But by the end of the year, I was comfortable teaching them and was quite proud of their accomplishments.  So I will miss them.

It was also bittersweet because it is one of the last big events in my village that I will experience as the only American.  In August, I will be joined in my village by another wonderful volunteer, who will be teaching health at my school.  Though I’m very excited to have a site mate and Amir, my new site mate, is really great, it was a little weird to realize that this is one of the last things I will experience “alone” at my site.  My new site mate was visiting this weekend to check out the village and attended the first part of the night (the ceremony part) but went back to his host family’s after the ceremony (and was very kind to send me the pictures he took since I didn’t take any).

I have a feeling this will be one of my favorite memories from my time here.  I had a great time and also felt a part of the community in a way I hadn’t completely felt before.

*All photos and videos by Amir F., used with permission.

Celebrating the Holidays at School

This past week was our last week of school before our Christmas vacation.  As in the United States, this meant end-of-semester grades, tests, and holiday celebrations.  Although the date on which Christmas and New Year are celebrated varies throughout Moldova, in my town Christmas is celebrated on the traditional Orthodox date of January 7th, while New Year is celebrated on the 14th.  In some towns, the main celebration or perhaps a smaller celebration will take place on December 25th, but January 7th is the primary celebration in most areas.


On Thursday, one of my fourth grade classes surprised me with balloons, singing “Happy Birthday” in English, and a card.  We had mentioned a few weeks ago that my birthday was on the same day as Christmas is celebrated in the United States, and they had remembered and planned the surprise all on their own.  It was so sweet of them and I really appreciated it!

Learning "Jingle Bells"
Learning “Jingle Bells”

I was excited that we were able to do a couple of lessons this week in which we were able to talk about Christmas and winter holidays in the United States.  In our third and fourth grade classes, I taught the students “Jingle Bells”.  I was surprised and amused when we got to the refrain and all the students seemed to know it quite well.  In one fourth grade class, we finished teaching the song, and they all broke out simultaneously into the Romanian version of the song, which I wasn’t aware existed.  In our ninth grade classes, we had a lesson on Christmas.  It was primarily focused on Christmas carols and songs, which was a lot of fun.  I shared some of my favorite Christmas songs with the students.  They particularly seemed to like “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”.  In one class, one of the boys stood up and started dancing, and in both, they asked me for the names of the songs.  I could hear several of them humming or singing along to the songs later in the day.  In one of my ninth grade classes, two of my students sang one of their traditional Christmas carols in perfect harmony.  It was truly beautiful, and I think the students really enjoyed the lesson.

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On Thursday, after classes, the older students had a concert and performance.  The fifth through seventh graders had their celebration first.  There were hours of songs, dances, and games, all organized and put on by the students.  I swear that children in Moldova know how to dance before they can even walk or talk.  Practically all Moldovans dance well, particularly the traditional dances.  I’m always so impressed by my students when they dance or sing.

One of my favorite performances was done by my seventh graders.  Two of them sang, while a few others danced.  The song is also super catchy, you can find it here if you want a song stuck in your head!  After the more formal concert, and scattered throughout, there were different activities.

One was that two students from each class (a boy and a girl) had to do a traditional partner dance.  As far as I could tell, the students were not pre-selected and hadn’t specifically prepared, but they all danced so well!  There was also a game where four students were selected and they had to blow a balloon until it popped and then there was a paper inside the balloon with an activity they had to complete: select a partner and do a dance, what is a talent you have and share it with the audience (dance, sing, etc.), give a few compliments to each teacher in the room, and another activity I don’t remember.  The M.C. insisted that they had to give my compliments in English (in case you’re wondering, I’m beautiful, smart, and friendly).  At the end of the celebration, there was some dancing with Moș Crăciun.

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After the 5th-7th grade celebrations, there was a break so people could go home and eat and such.  At 4:00, I returned to the school for the 8th and 9th grade celebration.  This was much the same, though with a bit more variety of performances: dancing, singing, and instrument-playing, as well as skits.

See more photos and videos here:

Once again, I was amazed at their ability to dance.  There was also one performance that I have to admit I still have no idea what it was (song? skit? dance? comedy?).  One of the 9th grade boys dressed up as a girl, including wig and makeup.  Two other 9th grade boys accompanied him and there was a very interesting performance that followed.  Beyond that, I really don’t know how to describe it.  Sorry.  It was truly interesting, confusing, and everyone was laughing very hard.  They had the same activities after, and this time the student who had to give compliments had a bit of a harder time because he just recently started at the school and hadn’t had many of the teachers in the room.  They tried to tell him that he needed to give mine (he does have me as a teacher) in English, but he didn’t know any of the words (if you’re curious, this time around I was “beautiful, a good teacher, and American”).   This time around the celebration ended with a typical “high school dance”, complete with a disco ball, dimmed lights, and loud music.

I was really glad I went to both of the celebrations.  I usually only get to see and interact with my students during class, and it was nice to see them have fun, use their numerous talents, and interact with one another.  It was also a nice reminder that teens and pre-teens are similar in many ways, regardless of where in the world they live.  Sometimes it feels like the school system here doesn’t really allow kids to be kids, but during these celebrations, everything felt a lot more relaxed.