I don’t remember very much about the year 1989, except for the end of it, when I found myself drunk and a little more than depressed on a cold December evening.
It was Christmas Day, and I was in Israel. Officially, it isn’t a holiday, as most of the Arab Palestinians and all of the Jews don’t celebrate it. A tiny minority of Palestinians, however, are Christians. And then, of course, there are the tourists, as thousands of Christians from around the world flock to the country that they consider to be the “Holy Land”.
But officially, Christmas Day isn’t a holiday in Israel. All of the shops are open and, outside of certain religious shrines, the day is otherwise completely normal for the vast majority of people. Certainly there are no Christmas lights, decorations, Nativity scenes or other paraphernalia anywhere in public. And that depressed me.
I was focused on the lack of Christmas and feeling sorry for myself, and so I barely paid any attention to my friend when he ran into the room where I lay sulking and breathlessly informed me that the Romanians were shooting their former dictator live on television at that very moment.
Friend: Buddy, hey man, you got to come see it! They’re shooting Ceausescu right now on television.
Me:: So what? Who is that guy, anyway? I never heard of him*
*Famous last words
I wrongly chose to remain alone in my room to mourn the officially Worst Christmas of my life.
That was 1989 and this is 2014 and, after all these many years, I have finally found the Perfect Christmas and it is in Chisinau, Moldova.
In your head you might be imagining a warm fireplace, a large, beautiful tree under which are piled high numerous gifts all wrapped in bright colors and ribbons. All of us are wearing jolly Santa caps and we clink our glasses together as we moan with contented happiness as large flakes of snow lazily drift down from the sky. We give a toast to life and love, health and happiness, and then gently sip the perfectly blended amber contents of our glasses, smiling as we fondly declare our love for one another and indeed, all of humanity.
That’s a Hollywood version of Perfect Christmas, anyway :)
In reality, to understand why Chisinau, Moldova is the best place on Earth for everyone to celebrate Christmas, you need to understand the “pros” and “cons” of modern Christmas as it is normally handled in Romania, America and the “Western” world:
- Family gets together
- People give presents
- Day off from work/school
- Eat good food
- Festive decorations in home and in public areas
- Spirit of generosity and kindness
- Way too commercial
- Starts earlier every year
- Pressure to visit family even if you’re not in mood to do so
- Too much Christmas music in your face
- Religious stuff
How is Christmas different in Moldova?
To begin with, December 25 isn’t Christmas. They do things on the Russian Orthodox schedule here, which means Christmas isn’t until January 7. So December 25 is just a “regular” day.
Except that it isn’t, quite. There are tiny groups of Catholic (and Protestant) Moldovans, and for them it is Christmas on December 25. But it’s obviously Christmas also over next door in Big Brother Romania, and that counts for a lot here. Not to mention that Moldovans love their television, and the channels are all full of images of people celebrating Christmas around the world.
Santa Claus comes in two flavors here. One is the “Western” Coca-Cola jolly fat man dressed in red. He delivers toys to children from a sleigh that’s pulled by reindeer. He’s referred to as Mos Craciun in Romanian, literally “Old Man Christmas”, similar to “Father” Christmas in Britain.
The other Santa Claus is dressed in blue, is less obese, less jolly and has a smoking hot adult daughter who accompanies him, who is actually (somehow) “Snow White” but in different form. Blue Santa always carries a staff that glows at the tip and his sleigh is pulled by horses, not reindeer. Blue Santa is referred to as Mos Gerila in Romanian, literally “Old Man Frost”.
The schools, banks and government offices are closed on December 25 in Moldova but the shops and stores are not. There isn’t much official gift-giving but nobody in Moldova needs a special excuse to exchange chocolates with their friends and loved ones on this day.
And so, in Moldova, December 25 is the Perfect Christmas, halfway celebrating it the Western way, and halfway saving the other parts for January 7.
Why Moldova is the Land of Perfect Christmas
- People off work/school
- But shops and stores are open
- No religious stuff
- Buses and trains on regular schedule
- People in a good mood
- Go see family – but only if you’re in the mood
- Blue Santa is like a Russian superhero
- There’s only minimal Christmas music in shops and malls
- Christmas decorations in town, but only in the center
- Exchange small presents – but only if you’re in the mood
- Eat some good food
Of course I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop on January 7, and I will dutifully report back about that. But for now, I just wanted to give a public thanks to Moldova for being the Land of Perfect Christmas.