You see, I have a small family. Actually, it's not really that small, but everyone is spread out. Before my mom died I really only remember all of the family getting together for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but besides that it was usually just my mom, dad, sister, and me for the rest. Because my mom wanted nothing more in this world than to have children, my sister and I were basically the center of attention for holidays (now things make more sense). Easter was always fun because the weather was usually nice, so first thing we'd do in the morning was get up and go hunt for eggs that the Easter bunny had hidden- inside and outside. I remember when we were really little we'd be all dressed up and we'd go to our neighbors house and the Easter bunny would show up (my mom had made a costume, if I remember correctly) which scared the s*** out of us, and then we would go visit PopPop (our great grandfather) and his wife, Selma (and continue the egg hunting... and she'd always give us dumdum lollipops). Mom would usually make Monkey bread, which we'd eat for all of the meals that day. When we got older and started going to church, and after mom died, we'd attend Easter service with dad (who wears the same green striped shirt every year!) and then we'd go to brunch with my step mom and step sisters... sometimes inviting a couple of extra family members along or family friends. But that was it- by early afternoon on Easter Sunday the festivities had died down, we were in a sugar coma (except for that one year that mom... err... the Easter bunny... gave us underwear in our multi-colored plastic eggs. We were less than pleased, but I'm sure she thought it was hilarious), and we'd probably even forgotten that that day was actually a holiday.
But this is far from how Easter is celebrated in this Eastern Orthodox village in Moldova.
Feel free to read the rest of the posts that lead up to the celebrations of yesterday and today- because it has been a wonderful week. Up until yesterday I thought Easter was pretty cool. It was the best holiday by far, but it still wasn't too exciting: the fires were a cool tradition, the Mass was like nothing I had ever experienced before, and, heck, I even thought eating with (almost) the whole family was memorable... but I hadn't been to the cemetery yet. That's where the magic happens and where Easter becomes amazing.
In my village we have 2 cemeteries because the old one is full, so they built a new one (which is also almost full due to the approximately 30 deaths this winter!), so the "Day of the Dead" is celebrated on Sunday in the new cemetery and Monday in the old. I was thinking of going on vacation over this holiday because I was expecting it to be like most of the other holidays... it used to be a big deal but now a lot of the traditions are lost. So I'd asked my students when the biggest day of the celebration was so I could plan around it.... and now I'm very glad I am out of vacation days and decided to stick around. They told me that the Saturday night before Easter and Easter Sunday is a big deal because of the fires, Mass, and then eating with friends. Then they said you go visit friends and family all throughout the week, and then the Sunday and Monday after Easter is a big deal, too, because you go to the cemetery. Well, my memories of the cemetery aren't exactly happy ones. I go, I cry, I write a letter, read it, and burn it... sometimes I lay down by my mom's grave and look up at the clouds and get lost in thought... but that's about it... so needless to say I wasn't too excited about a full two days hanging out in the cemetery. However, I did my hair, put on makeup, a skirt, and headed there to meet with Maria.
People had already begun to show up and they were laying hand towels on the graves of their loved ones (that they had fixed up very nicely... some even planted flowers on top), and then placing the traditional bread on top of the towel, and then put different candies and cookies in the center of the bread. After everything was organized and frumos (beautiful) on Pavel's grave, we went to her parents graves, which were in the old cemetery. There we did the same thing, and she also lit incense and walked around the graves (I believe 3 times).
Then it was time to wait for the Priest to come over. The weather was gorgeous and it was hot (hot sun beating down on a sunburn is not fun) but it was nice to socialize. Then once the Priest came to us (he went to every grave where people were), Maria gave him a booklet that had the names of all of the family members that had died written on it. He then sang a hymn (with his family in tow singing along) and then, in Prayer, read off all of the names to bless them and their families and to allow them to continue to rest in peace. It was really quite beautiful. He then sprayed us, the food, and the graves with holy water, said thank you, and moved on.
After he finished, we cleaned up the food we had put on their graves and went back to the new cemetery to again wait for him to come over there so he could bless Pavel's grave. In the meantime, however, the wine was brought out and we began to eat some of the food. Friends came over, and as they did so they said, "Istos a inviat", and in response we said, "Cu adeverat a inviat" (Jesus is Risen/He is Risen indeed). Wine was then passed around (usually in the same glass for everyone, but because the wine is blessed then we won't get each other sick, right??), and then people would give gifts of bread, bowls, plates, sweets, ect to their friends in the name of the soul of their family member has died. (I came to the cemetery with a small tupperware container of peanut butter cookies and a coffee cup, and I left with two grocery sacks full of food and dishes and towels).
We arrived at 11am, and I left the cemetery at 2pm: totally exhausted, full, and in need of a nap.
I then went to Riscani Idol (post coming soon), and then woke up this morning and started it all over again- except this time with my host mom and her family, and without the Riscani Idol afterwards.
The difference with what we did today was the weather (it was really cold and sprinkling rain on and off), there were many more graves to visit (we went to 3 different locations- packing up our goods and gifts each time), and there were many more people. The rest of it, though, was the same. However, there were some monumental highlights:
- My host mom had me write the name of my mom in the book of the dead, and the Priest read it aloud. I got rather emotional during this... I really felt like a part of this village at that moment.
- The Priest had his daughter (one of my students) go to the church and pick out a "goody" with a Saint on it (he's really awesome)
- It was so fun walking around the cemetery and having people stop me, knowing who I am but I have no idea who they are, but that's ok. It happens. (Of course I did know some of them, though!)
- A woman came to Antonina and asked if I was her daughter. I said no, her daughter is in Cambodia: I'm American. She then said "It's clear you're American. You have it written across your forehead". Antonina then said, "yes, she is".
If I can come back to Moldova every Easter I totally will. My host mom said she doesn't really like holidays in Moldova, but she loves Easter because so many people come home for the celebrations. You reconnect with people you haven't seen in years, and you meet new people. If the weather was a combination of today and yesterday, I could have stayed there all day meeting the parents and relatives of my students, but alas it was cold, rainy, and I already had 2 more bags full of goodies... and we had to walk home. But, seriously. Easter is amazing... and my new favorite holiday (my birthday- September 9, don't forget!- is now #2).
(Side note: people like to pose with the tombstones)
Thank you, Moldova, for opening up my eyes to a whole new meaning to the words holiday, family, friends, and tradition. Maybe I will marry a Moldovan, and then people can stop looking at me like I'm crazy when I tell them I'm 23 and... get this... single. Just kidding (to the marrying a Moldovan part).
... my favorite composition of photos. And it shows that rain or shine, hot or cold, people still celebrate!
...And on a closing note, I learned a valuable photography lesson from this little girl. As soon as she saw my camera she came up to me and I would have assumed she was a pro by the way she was handling my camera. Through her photos I was reminded again of the value of perspective and details (the bottom 3 photos are hers!)