RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR, MOLDOVAN-STYLE
Note: Julia de la Torre '98 is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the country of Moldova, and will share her experiences as part of an occasional series for news@haverford. To view other articles in this series, click on June 2004, August 2004, and October 2004.
When I was a kid, Christmas was one glorious day of celebratory bliss. As a student in school, I looked forward to two weeks of restful vacation and play time. But as a Peace Corps volunteer in Moldova, I discovered that Christmas is a month full of celebrations and traditions that I never could have expected.
Here in Moldova, people celebrate based on either the Christian calendar (December 25) or the Orthodox calendar (January 7). The former group rings in the New Year on January 1, whereas the latter celebrates on January 14. No matter who you are, everyone here begins the holiday season on December 19, Saint Nicolai's Day. Children put out their shoes hoping that Saint Nicolai will fill them with treats by morning. This is also a day for Moldovans to raise a glass in honor of the Nicolais in their lives, of which there are likely many. And the celebration begins!
This year, I celebrated the holidays based on American traditions as well as those of my host family, creating a full month of eating, drinking, singing, and sleeping. As part of Moldovan tradition, my family went door-to-door with urÄƒturÄƒ, or good wishes, on New Year's Eve. I memorized one called pluguÅŸorul, or little plow. This uratura wishes the listeners a year full of a good harvest and successful crops. You first start with someone in your urÄƒturÄƒ group dressed in a traditional costume cracking a whip, as would be done to a horse pulling a plow. Another person is carrying a buhai, which is a kind of drum with a horse tail attached. A third person wets their hands with borÅŸ (sour soup) and pulls the tail, creating a low, hollow sound reminiscent of a horse straining as it pulls the plow through the fields. When done on New Year's Eve, it signals to the homeowner that people have arrived with urÄƒturÄƒ. Once the host agrees to accept guests, the pluguÅŸorul begins and visitors are rewarded with coins and treats.
The next day, my host parents came into my room and woke me up by throwing handfuls of corn kernels on me. Corn, you ask? Yes! Combined with a short poem, the tradition called sorcova is meant to give luck in harvest and health in the New Year.
Only seven days after these events, we celebrated Christmas. I spent the day with my host mother cooking up traditional foods for the big evening meal. Specific to Christmas is the plÄƒcintÄƒ cu noroc, or lucky pancake. This plÄƒcintÄƒ is filled with sweet pumpkin and special surprises, such as coins (representing wealth), corn kernels (representing animals), and hay (representing sheep), which are all baked into the pancake. Each person then eats a piece of the plÄƒcintÄƒ to see their luck for the New Year. We also prepared colaci, homemade breads of different shapes. These are given to carolers and are then hung in the home near a window until Saint Gheorghe's Day in May. At that time, the dry bread is broken into crumbs which are fed to the chickens to ensure their health for the rest of the year. Finally, we made sarmale (stuffed cabbage leaves), reciturÄƒ (cold chicken served in a gelatin mold), and perjoale (little meat burgers). After our meal, we received carolers at our door along with people dressed in horse and goat costumes, elaborately decorated with streamers and ribbons. A special dance was performed by each animal, followed by songs sung by children. And so ended Christmas.
Fortunately, the holidays are not over yet. As I write this article, Orthodox New Year is still to come. Many times over the course of the last month, I have raised a glass to the holidays, wondering if 2004 would ever really end. But now with the season winding down, I realize that this was my last Christmas in Moldova, which saddens me. So I'll close by making one last toast to my host families, colleagues, and friends who have helped make my experience in Moldova truly extraordinary. MultÄƒ sÄƒnÄƒtate ÅŸi la multi ani!