Learning to celebrate

I’ve never been a big New Year’s person.  I’ve done different things on New Year’s Eve…spent it at the Marriott, at home with family, had a quiet night at a friend’s house, on Mill Ave for the block party…none of it really gets me excited.  Maybe I’m subconsciously protesting the whole “New Year’s kiss” cliche, which just makes New Year’s seem like the holiday sibling of Valentine’s Day (maybe they look different and have different interests, but they still share the same mannerisms, DNA and the same last name).  Or maybe I just don’t know how to celebrate.

Well, in Moldova, New Year’s Eve is kind of a big deal.  For many, I think it kicks off the holiday season.  Moldova doesn’t have a Thanksgiving, and only part of the country celebrates Christmas on December 25 (the rest of the country celebrates Orthodox Christmas on January 7).  But there’s a whole bunch of hustle and bustle.  People wishing happy holiday and many years all over the place.

This time around, I decided to ring in the new year with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer and her host family.  (Thanks for the invite, Andrea!)  So, on New Year’s Eve Day, I woke up early, picked up some champagne and ingredients for cookies at the grocery store, prepared some baked goods to bring as a gift, and headed to another village through the capital.

My friend and her host mom were slaving away in the kitchen preparing a feast.  Three salads, chicken, sausage, goat (yes, I did try it…it was delicious, actually), fish (cooked AND raw), fruit, cake, crepes, bread…it was a FULL table (see photos below).  I assisted in the preparations, and we all sat down to eat around 9 p.m.  With full stomachs, the fiesta continued, and we piled into the family’s car for my friend’s host brothers to drive us into the city for fireworks and a concert in the city center.  We arrived at the festivities just in time, just as the countdown was beginning, “Zece, nouă, opt, șapte…” and we popped open our bottle of champagne to celebrate 2012.  And then the fireworks began.

What is it about life that makes us lose our childlike wonder?  That makes us forget how to be in awe of something?  Maybe it’s something American, because, standing outside in the chilly night as fireworks lit up the sky, the Moldovans around me were audibly impressed.  There was such joy in watching the colors light up the sky.  They were wowed.

I honestly can’t remember the last time I was “wowed” by fireworks, but I’m pretty sure it’s when I was a kid.  Every 4th of July I usually go to see some, but more because it’s a tradition.  Eh, they’re fireworks.  See ’em every year.  No big deal.  And standing there, listening to people “ooo” and “aaaah,” I realized something.  In some ways, I’ve forgotten how to celebrate.  There’s no reason why I can’t geniunely love a firework show; why I can’t find the wonder in that and appreciate the magic of fireworks bringing in the new year.  And so I stopped, and I started to look at the sky with a new perspective.

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Moldova may have development issues and economic woes, but these people know how to celebrate.  Even in the face of hardship.  They gather together around the same table, enjoying the company of friends and family and feasting on the food they’ve been blessed with.  For almost every holiday, birthdays included.  And that, my friends, is something I admire.

Back in Phoenix, I used to meet with a mentor (an amazing woman, you know who you are), and awhile back she told me that each year, she and her friends would pick a word for the coming year.  Well, I want to pick a word.  This year, the Moldovans are teaching me how to celebrate.  And so I think my word for this year is going to be “celebrate.”

This is, in part, a concept present in my faith that I’m beginning to see in a new light.  But it also present in my work here.  So much of this experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer is about the way you perceive the things around you.  Look for opportunities, not problems.  Look for the humor in situations, don’t get angry.  Look at failure as guidance; a learning experience.  The ruminations on my blog may be upbeat, but a lot of times this job is hard, and a positive perspective is so important.

So when things get hard, I’m going to find something to celebrate.  And when things seem dull, I’m going to remember that life is full of wonder, if only we will open our eyes and look around.

Fireworks are just as bright and colorful as when we were little.  We only need to see them that way.

(Note the band dressed in Santa suits.)