Easter celebrations, new traditions, and surprises!

This is a continuation from the previous post, “Preparations leading up to Easter in Moldova“… In anticipation of celebrating Easter known as Paște [Pa-sh-tay] in Romanian, the day finally arrived with waking up before the sun made an appearance. My host dad and I left the house around 5:00 am with a basket of food that was prepared for us to go to one of the church’s in the center of the city.

As we were walking in the dark, we could hear all the church bells ringing throughout the city.  You could feel the anticipation of the day that was ahead of us as we passed many people coming and going throughout the town with their lit candles and prepared baskets of foods.

Once we got to the church it was quite the scene as many people were coming and going out of the gate carrying their baskets and the numerous beggars with their hands open and pleading for money. I tried to stay close to my host dad as we made our way in and I tried to take in this new experience.

People lined up around the church waiting for the priest to bless their baskets of food.
People lined up around the church waiting for the priest to bless their baskets of food.

For this tradition, each family prepares a display on the ground or in a basket which includes special sweet bread (pasca), red colored eggs, wine, meat, and a burning candle. It was quite an impressive sight as many people stood behind their candle-lit arrangements expectantly waiting as the church bells rang in the near-dawn darkness.

My host dad laying out all the food to be blessed by the priest.
My host dad laying out all the food to be blessed by the priest and lighting candles representing his family as well as my family in the US.

We didn’t have to wait long for the priest and his attendants to make their way through our line as the priest dipped a large basil branch into a bucket of water carried by a young attendant and splashed generous amounts of holy water over the us and the food as a traditional blessing.

I wish I had this on video, but it happened so quickly that we realized they were in our line and were blessing the arrangement my host dad had just put out. In this photo I was getting doused by a very generous amount of water and was stunned a bit after it had happened.
I wish I had this on video, but it happened so quickly that we realized they were blessing the food-arrangement my host dad had just put out. In this photo I was getting doused by a very generous amount of holy water. Surpriza!
These were all the candles my host dad lit for our food arrangement  and then next we took them into the church along with all our food that had been blessed.
These were all the candles my host dad lit for our food arrangement, and then next we took them into the church along with all our food that had been blessed.

After the food had been blessed we made our way into the church where my host dad put each candle where you pray for health, each one representing his family as well as my family in the US. I followed my host dad into the church and watched him and the many others pay their respects to the various saints and Jesus who was at the front and center of the church. We each lit candles from the front of the church – my host mom told me later that the flame from those candles came from Jerusalem.

The front of the church we had visited on Easter Sunday and lit our candles.
The front of the church we had visited on Easter Sunday and lit the candles.

Once we left the church we made our way home in the dark along with a candle and the food that had been blessed. It is customary to eat this food first thing in the morning, so we made our way home where my host mom had prepared the table so we could all eat together.

Making our way back to the apartment in the dark...
Making our way back to the apartment in the dark…

Once we made it back to the apartment, I had a few unknown surprises I had not heard about before we ate our early blessed meal together…

I never heard of this before... but when we opened the door there was a large knife at the entrance and my host dad told me we needed to step on it because... well, to be honest I am still not sure.
I never heard of this before… but when we opened the door there was a large knife at the entrance and my host dad told me we needed to step on it because… well, to be honest I am still not sure.
And then.. there was the basin filled with water that had a dyed red egg in it and coins. We each used the water to wash our face and rubbed the egg on our face, for health and also rubbed a coin on our face for wealth in this new year. Again, a new tradition I had never heard of before.
And then.. there was the basin filled with water that had a dyed red egg in it and coins. We each used the water to wash our face and rubbed the egg on our face, for health and also rubbed a coin on our face for wealth in this new year. Again, a new tradition I had never heard of before.

Then we finally sat down to our first masa (dinner) of the day where we ate the food that had been blessed at the church… cold meat and all.

The first masa (dinner) of the day... all the food that had been blessed at the church.
The first masa (dinner) of the day… all the food that had been blessed at the church.

One of my new favorite things is the traditional game with the red hard boiled eggs. Before eating, each person chooses an egg and it starts with two people where one hits their egg over the other one to see which one cracks, the one whose egg does not crack continues the game to the next person until the last person’s egg is not cracked and they are the winner.

My host dad and I about to hit our eggs... this was my first time doing this... and it was right before I dropped my egg in surprise and cracked my own egg. Oops.
My host dad and I about to hit our eggs… this was my first time doing this… and it was right before I dropped my egg in surprise and cracked my own egg. Oops.

After our 6:00 am meal we all took a little rest and went back to bed for a little bit before coming back together for another meal a few hours later.

The next meal a few hours later with the addition of a few more foods that my host mom had prepared the day before.
The next meal a few hours later with the addition of a few more foods that my host mom had prepared the day before.

After this second meal, I left to visit my work partner and her family and had my next meal with them. Since it was such a beautiful day, we got to eat together outside.

The next meal with my work partner's family. Lots of food on a beautiful day as we ate outside and enjoyed the sunshine.
The next meal with my work partner’s family. Lots of food on a beautiful day as we ate outside and enjoyed the sunshine. (and this isn’t even all the food yet!)

I even got to meet a new kind of animal that we had eaten that day – a first for me. My work partner’s father raises nutria, they are kind of like a cross between a beaver and river rat – it’s really hard to explain. This was one of the first conversations my work partner and I had when we met… imagine having that conversation in Romanian.

IMG_1372-1
Some of the larger nutria and their babies up close and personal… along with their big front orange teeth.
My work partner and I holding some of the itty-bitty babies.
My work partner and I holding some of the itty-bitty nutria babies.

After eating more than I normally could handle we went for a nice walk…

Taking a nice walk... and balancing on the sewer line.
Taking a nice walk on such a beautiful day… and balancing on the sewer line.

I made my way home after this to have my next and final meal with my host family. This was my 4th large meal of the day… and at this point I was apparently done photographing for the day.

Now that we have celebrated Easter, instead of greeting people with the typical greeting “Buna ziua” (good day), for forty days after Easter people will greet each other with “Hristos a înviat” (Christ is risen) with the response of “Adevărat a îviat” (Truly He has risen).

So far, this has been my favorite celebration here in Moldova. I have enjoyed the day with my host family and work partner’s family and the adventures and food I got to experience.

…Do you think that the celebrations stopped there? Think again… more to come next!

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