In 100 words, write about a tradition in Moldova you would like a foreigner to learn about.
These were the words of a homework assignment in the 8th Grade English textbook recently. The class had studied celebrations in English-speaking countries and now it was time to share what they knew about their own celebrations (while practicing English, of course!) “Hmmm….” I said to my partner teacher, “What if we give them the opportunity to really share their thoughts with foreigners?” So here we have, especially for my “foreign” readers, some fascinating Moldovan traditions, as described by three outstanding 8th grade students, in their own words:
Yesterday was the first of March. Here in Moldova, this is the day when folks say goodbye to winter and greet the spring. One way to do this is by exchanging little red-and-white pins called Marțișoare* (singular marțișor) with friends.
As you can see, they take many forms, but the common theme is red and white intertwined cords, and usually a red and a white tassel. Small broaches are exchanged by friends, and larger versions are used as decorations. The most commonly heard legend behind the tradition goes something like this:
Once in a fight with the winter witch, who didn’t want to give up her place, the beautiful lady Spring cut her finger and few drops of her blood the first spring snowdrop poking its head up through the snow. The snowdrop charmed the winter witch and in this way Spring conquered Winter. Source: http://www.Moldova.org
So the red dangles represent the red and white snowdrop flowers that grew in the story. A short version of the red-and-white theme might be: “Goodbye white Winter, hello vibrant, living Spring!”
I felt very loved yesterday, as I received FIVE marțișoare from my partner, my host mom, the school director, the ladies in my Adult English class, and another volunteer!
Meanwhile, outside it continues to snow. I guess the marțișoare will help us keep Spring in our hearts, whatever the weather!
How do you celebrate your birthday? With a cake? Maybe some presents? If you are in Moldova, chances are you invite folks to visit you, and probably a lot of food is involved. If you are Anastasia, my host mom’s beloved granddaughter, and you are visiting your grandmother who loves to cook, everyone is in for a treat! On Sunday, February 4th, about 15 people gathered and spent at least 4 hours enjoying massive amounts of delicious food at a traditional Moldovan masa. Preparations for this wondrous repast began on Friday night, when a friend came to help Sasha prepare kurnice (kind of like chicken pies) and sarmale (little cabbage rolls), and continued all day Saturday when Sasha’s daughter joined the work force. Here are a few events I managed to photograph: (Click for larger pictures or mouse-over for captions. Post continues below)
Sasha and Tamara taught me to make sarmale!
Making sarmale (cabbage rolls)
Ready to make layered jellies with kiwi. Yes they are expecting THAT many people!
The completed jellies.
You can see the layers
Even the spare room was full of items waiting to be served.
Some of the aftermath!
There are many other things I wish I could have captured:
The first several people to arrive were more comfortable conversing amongst themselves in Russian, but made room for me in their circle, and kindly attempted to include me in the small-talk. Sasha made a point of asking everyone to please speak Romanian so that Valerie can understand.
Jokes. They must have been jokes, although they were in Russian, and I couldn’t understand a bit, because everyone laughed so hard! Three jovial men were the main protagonists, and I wish I had a photo of their mischievous, gray-haired faces suffused with mirth as they rocked with laughter!
A young man, also named Sasha* was in charge of pouring wine at our end of the table. I wish I had a picture of his face when I asked him to add a little champagne to a glass already mostly full of peach juice. Evidently combining these elements just isn’t done.
Maria, my host mom’s oldest sister, who is a retired English teacher and who repeatedly translated her husband’s (Russia) anecdotes into Romanian for me. I also noticed her translating in the other direction occasionally.
The REST of the food! After we grazed on the great variety of food set out on the table (see picture above), we were served quail and potatoes with pickled watermelon and tomatoes, then sarmale, then layered jello with fruit, then chocolate cake with coffee.
The cat, who couldn’t decide whether to play with people’s toes, beg for food, or run and hide from all the commotion!
*Note for fellow language nerds: “Sasha” can be a nickname for “Alexandra” or for “Alexander,” which is why I was sharing a meal with both a feminine and a masculine Sasha.
This week’s word is a little sad. Wednesday was the 4th anniversary of my mother’s death. Here in Moldova, there is a custom of celebrating that day with a toast commemorating the dear departed. To give such a toast is to pomeni. So I bought a bottle of wine, and my host mom and I shared a toast and a few words about what a special person my mom was, and how much I miss her. In this picture you can see how beautiful she was in her youth:
Comical side note: we didn’t have a proper corkscrew to open the wine, just the one in my Swiss army knife, and neither of us could pull hard enough to get the cork out! So we ended up toasting with Sasha’s delicious homemade wine instead!
Can you name a famous person whose birthday was celebrated last Monday on January 15th? If you’re in Moldova, probably the first person who comes to mind is Mihai Eminescu (“Mee-high Yem-een-es-kyoo”).* Eminescu one of the most famous and influential poets ever to write in the Romanian language. He’s extremely well known in Romania and Moldova; his portrait is seen everywhere from schoolroom walls, to the church lawn, and even on Romania’s money! Since the school where I work is one of many Moldovan schools named after him, there were a variety of special activities during the school day on Monday. Each grade level had special activities planned, including this Eminescu Trivia Challenge for the 9th grade:
And the day ended with a performance in the school auditorium featuring song, dance, poetry, and skits, all performed by the students! Here is about a minute of it for you to enjoy. See if you can catch the poet’s name near the end!
Sisters, Sisters, there were never such devoted sisters…
The words from this classic song played in my head as I watched my host mom and her sister together. As the family celebration of “Old Christmas” started to wind down, the two of them curled up together on the dinette bench for a chat. Passing one pair of reading glasses back and forth, they looked at photos in each other’s cell phones, reminisced about “the good old days” and caught up on what everyone and their kids were up to lately. As some family members slowly drifted toward the door and began looking for their coats, the sisters shared an orange, stretching the party out as long as possible.
(I should note that they have one other sister, Maria, equally close, who just didn’t happen to be on hand for this particular celebration).
“Urători! Come see!” My Romanian tutor Lucia, her young son and her sister-in-law rushed me to the door. It was “Old” New Years Eve, and her family had graciously invited me to their village to enjoy the festivities. Sure enough, at the door were several young people. One was strenuously ringing a bell, while each in turn recited a long poem, wishing us well for the new year. When all of them had finished, the gospodina (housewife) of the house presented each of them with cookies or a colac bread, sweets, and….. MONEY!
Although the calendar read January 13th, this night was New Year’s Eve by the old (Julian) calendar still followed by the Orthodox church. Here in Moldova, some villages welcome the new year on December 31st, and others on the more traditional January 13th. Last Saturday night, I was fortunate to have been invited to enjoy the latter.
Throughout the evening, many other groups of urători came to the door, as well as colindători, who came singing carols. In between, we enjoyed a bountiful feast, complete with homemade wine, and I had a lot of fun playing with a precious little boy and girl who spoke to me in (respectively) Romanian and Russian.
A highlight of the evening was one group of urători that included a dancing goat. Apparently the tradition includes trying to grab a piece of tinsel from the goat costume, to ensure good luck in the coming year.
As midnight approached, the little ones fell asleep one by one, until only the oldest (5 whole years old!) was left awake. Finally the magic hour arrived, and we went outside to enjoy a fireworks display provided by Lucia’s brother, then saluted the “new” year with champagne and cake.