Victory/Europe Day

Veterans from the village prepare for a gun salute in front of the World War II monument

Victory Day is celebrated on May 9th in Moldova. In some villages, Europe Day is celebrated instead, and in many, both holidays are celebrated simultaneously. Both holidays celebrate the victory over Germany during World War II and remember those that fought and lost their lives in the war.

Students lay flowers around the monument in memory of those that died and fought in World War II.

In our village, all of the students and teachers gathered at the school (there were no lessons for the day), and walked the short ways to our village’s World War II monument by the park. Some community members and those that work at our mayor’s office also joined us.

Students lay flowers around the monument in memory of those that died and fought in World War II.

Some students recited a poetry about peace and a teacher introduced the daughter of one of the men from our village who fought in the war. There was a gun salute, and then each person passed by the monument and laid flowers in memory of those that lost their lives or fought in the war. It was a short and simple ceremony.

Flowers laid on the monument in memory of those that died and fought in World War II.

My host mom told me that in the past, it was a much bigger holiday, and there was a parade through the village attended by almost everyone in the village. My village was directly in the middle of the front line during the war. As a result, there are almost no houses that are older than 70 years old, as almost everything was destroyed.

Flowers laid on the monument in memory of those that died and fought in World War II.

Some students walked to the cemetery with a teacher to lay flowers on the graves of the Romanian soldiers that died here while fighting. It was unusual in Moldova to have buried and marked the graves of the Romanian soldiers, mostly unnamed, after the war. However, our village has a section of the cemetery dedicated to just them, with stone crosses marking the graves.

Graves of the Romanian soldiers that died here during World War II (photo from earlier this spring).

Since the day is a national holiday, we had the rest of the day off. Many families have barbecues or picnics, a lot like Memorial Day in the United States.

Happy Easter!

Lining up outside the church to wait for the priest’s blessing

You may be thinking I’m a bit late on this post, but here in Moldova, Easter was celebrated yesterday, according to the Orthodox calendar. Most Moldovans are Orthodox Christians (either Eastern or Russian Orthodox) and for them, Easter is the most important holiday of the year.

Lined up outside of the church at 4:30 in the morning

The church service begins on Saturday night and lasts until about sunrise on Sunday. Many families and children don’t come all night, and come around 4 in the morning, when the service finishes and everyone gathers outside the church. Each family brings a basket with meat, boiled eggs, and a special bread called pasca and line up with candles, either around the church yard or along the roads surrounding the church. In my village, thousands of people come on Easter morning to our only church, so everyone lines up along the roads. The priest and some men carrying icons and a cross walk between the lines of people, blessing them. First, the priest swings incense at each person and then they walk around once again. This time, the priest splashes each person and basket with holy water, blessing them and the food in the baskets. Once the blessing has occurred, everyone returns home and breaks the fasting period of Lent by eating meat, eggs, dairy, and drinking wine (at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning!), which is generally followed by napping.

Our meal with the whole family

Later in the day, my host brother and his family and host sister and her family joined us for a masa (special meal) and to visit with my host parents. The meal was delicious and I always enjoy when my four host-nieces join us! Something interesting to note- according to tradition, only cold (or room temperature) food is eaten at Easter. This means the meat is prepared ahead of time and eaten cold, along with cold salads, etc. My host mom isn’t sure why, but she told me she thinks it’s based on religious requirements. Other families seem to make hot or warm foods now, but my host family does not.

Playing with chalk outside after our meal

It was a gorgeous spring day, around 70° F. After we ate, we spent most of the day outside soaking up the sun while the grand-daughters played. In the evening, they headed back to their homes (though one of the host nieces stayed behind here for the rest of the Easter break).

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.

Martisor

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!