Paștele Fericit: Celebrating Easter Moldovan Style

The past couple of months have been a whirlwind of holidays and celebrations here in Moldova! Moldova is a fairly religious country with most people identifying as Orthodox Christians. Since this is the case, the Easter season here is a big deal. Easter traditions really begin six weeks before Easter Sunday when Moldovans begin observing post, or the equivalent to Lent in the United States. During post, no meat is eaten except specific celebrations and, even then, it is only fish. This was an especially interesting time at my school because, when we hosted meals for visiting educators, everything on the table was meat free and absolutely delicious!

Fast forward to Easter weekend and preparations for the holiday began in a whirlwind. My host mom started preparing for our Easter meal on Wednesday by killing a hog with my host dad (they asked me to join, but I’m not quite ready for all that!). In Moldova, if a family kills a hog, it is a big deal and is usually only done for major holidays. So, when I walked into our entryway and saw bowls of cut up pig everywhere, I knew we meant business. On Sunday morning at about 4:00 a.m., my host brother, my host sister-in-law (one of my teaching partners it just so happens), and I traveled to one of the churches within our city to have our meal blessed. Families from all over the city prepare baskets with a sampling of the food they will eat at their Easter feast, and these baskets are then taken to the church.

Each church approaches this ceremony differently and I am lucky that our church opted for the more expedient version, as some of these services can take upwards of 2-3 hours, all while standing. We showed up, stood in line next to other families, and waited for the priest to come around and bless our food with holy water. There is really no better word to describe his actions than he flung water on our food with a straw broom. He also threw some water on people around me as an act of blessing. The greeting that Moldovans use during this time is also special. Instead of just greeting one another as usual, they’ll say, “Hristos a înviat!” which means “He has risen!” The response given is, “Adeverat a înviat!” or “Indeed He has risen!” This will last from Easter Sunday until about the middle of May.

After getting back home, I fell back asleep (of course) and was awoken around 9:00 a.m. to begin our Easter feast. My host mom set a table with colac (traditional braided bread), pîrjoala (sausage-like patties), sausage, racituri (a dish made of rooster and its broth made into gelatin), fresh vegetables, and our house wine. Another tradition in Moldovan homes during Easter is to have red eggs at the table. These eggs have been hard-boiled and dyed red and, at the meal, everyone cracks theirs on everyone else’s at the table. It is fabled that whoever’s cracks the best is going to have good fortune in the next year. I am not a fan of eggs in any form, but I participated and ate a small bite to observe the tradition. Our meal lasted for about an hour, and after, we all went to our rooms and rested for the rest of the day!

The Easter holiday is observed for an entire week, which means students and teachers get the entire week off from school. This allowed me to travel to Romania for a few days on vacation! The Sunday following Easter is another unique holiday called Paștele Blajinilor or Easter of the Dead. For this celebration, families travel to the graves of their deceased family members and host a meal. They pray over the graves, drink toasts in their honor, and gift them with a variety of things. I was unable to attend this celebration (thanks, pneumonia), but the photos I saw and stories I heard from other volunteers were definitely interesting!

Hristos a înviat!

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