Most of Moldova celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7th, because the majority of people here are Eastern Orthodox. That’s not to say they don’t also celebrate on December 25th, because they do – Moldovans certainly enjoy celebrations. People here generally spend both Christmases with their families, eating and drinking a lot.
I wasn’t in Moldova for the first Christmas, but for the Orthodox Christmas my host family in Balti was going to their village home in Pirlita and invited me to join them. I was excited to see the traditions and spend some time with my host family, so I woke up early this morning and took a bus to their village, about 20 minutes from where I live. Upon arrival I was put to work helping to prepare the masa, (large celebratory meal of traditional Moldovan foods) although they didn’t work me nearly as hard as my real mother does for holiday meals (kidding – my mother at home would have been lucky to have me make the salad). After working on the food for a few hours I was dismissed from the kitchen and went into the other room to read, but instead got invited to play some Uno.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of food, lots and lots of food, homemade wine, laughter, political discussions (I kept my mouth shut – as PCVs we’re actually prohibited from expressing political opinions), several more games of Uno and Russian (Often Moldovans forget, especially after a few drinks that you unlike everyone else at the table can not switch effortlessly between Russian and Romanian and seem confused that you are now staring at them blankly, having picked up six words in the last five sentences they’ve spoken.). I enjoyed a front row seat on a Moldovan Orthodox Christmas celebration with my wonderful host family here.
Today and the holiday season here have given me an insight into the interesting and different Christmas customs here. The first is that the eve before the Orthodox Christmas children generally spend celebrating at their godparents’ homes. The second a really interesting tradition here is children caroling – it’s very widespread here and when children come to your door its traditional to give them candy, cookies and money – its like Trick-or-Treating, but they kids have to sing and they get money, not just candy. This traditional of paying children for caroling extends to children singing in the home on the Orthodox Christmas. All of the children (anyone high school aged or younger) sang a song or two and got lei from the various uncles, aunts, parents and grandparents present. The ten year old girl was counting her earnings as I left and she got almost 500 lei! While the children do get candy and money, there isn’t the American tradition of giving presents.
The Christmas lights and tree in Chisinau are very grand and beautiful, but we do have some lights up in the center of Balti and even a tree. The tree is large (larger than last year’s tree in Washington, DC) but sparsely decorated. The size of this tree is even more impressive when you consider that every single one of the real Christmas trees I have seen for sale here are Charlie Brown trees (very small trees).