I know this post is LONG overdue, but the experience was worth sitting down to recount.
New Year’s is a BIG deal in Moldova. I mean, it is THE holiday. I think the comparable holiday in the U.S. would be Christmas. New Year’s in Moldova is a time for family and feasting. Everything shuts down, women prep food for days, and everyone toasts to the coming year.
I spent the holiday in a small village with another volunteer’s host family this year, and it was great.
The day of the 31st, we helped prepare food as “well-wishers” (much like carolers) came to our door ringing bells and singing well-known Moldovan songs about the new year. Kids came, groups of adults, and we gave them food, treats, and sometimes a little money in return.
The host family has three sons, one who lives with his wife and daughter in Romania, one who lives a few houses down the street with his wife and daughter, and the youngest who studies in Romania most of the year. Their wives are all from the same small village, so when they come back for the holidays, there is lots of family to see.
Right around 10 p.m., it was our turn to carol. We went with the host mom and her youngest college-age son to the doors of her middle son’s home, and then to her oldest son’s in-laws, singing at the door and stepping in for a little food and champagne. Around 11:30 p.m., they all gathered at our house to feast and toast to the New Year. We set up the table in the family room in front of the couch, lining the other side of the table with chairs, and then we started bringing in the food, barely fitting the vast array of plates onto the table. One of the favorite dishes that the host mom prepared was this fruit dish arranged in the shape of a snake. She said she had heard that, according to Chinese horoscopes, 2013 was the year of the snake. It was great. Everyone was poured a generous glass of champagne, we counted down to midnight, and then we cheered and toasted “To many years!”. The men went out to shoot their rifles into the air (they live along the edge of the river, so they shot them away from the town and into the forest, but I still had to bite my tongue to avoid becoming a live American PSA: “random gunfire is dangerous!”). And then, of course, all 13 of us gathered around the table and ate. And ate, and ate, and ate! And laughed, and joked, and told stories.
Right around 4 a.m., I was ready to turn in, but the party continued at the table. The next day, we all slept late, and the two grandchildren were treated to a Christmas surprise (Santa came!).
We spent the brisk, but sunny, afternoon hiking in the woods and along the frozen river, and then in the evening, we were invited out on the town with the host brothers and their wives. We headed to the center of the village where there are a few bars that locals like to frequent. And then, one of my prouder culinary accomplishments in Moldova, we taught our local friends the practice of adding citrus to beer. (Anyone a fan of Blue Moon?) We squeezed an orange wedge into our small cup of beer, and then told them to try it. They loved it. And that, my friends, is an accomplishment. Often when you introduce new foods or spices or seasoning to people other cultures, they don’t always love the new taste or tradition. But this was a success. And for the rest of the night, we squeezed orange slices into our beer.
It was a great experience, a fantastic celebration, and I felt so thankful that this Moldovan family was willing to open their home and share their traditions with us.