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As I promised in my post The Land of Perfect Christmas, I would report back to you about the festivities here on Orthodox Christmas, January 7.
I was actually surprised by just how low-key the entire thing was, even though about 99% of Moldovans celebrate Orthodox Christmas in one way or another. Mostly it just seemed like a day off from work (and school) where you go visit friends and family and cook food and get drunk.
In terms of what was happening in the public space, almost everything remained unchanged. Buses and other forms of public transportation were running normally. Most of the bigger shops, including food stores, were open and doing a brisk business in champagne and cakes (Moldovans friggin’ love their sweets). A few of the smaller stores were closed, and of course the government and banks were shuttered.
I was expecting a bit more from the churches in terms of bell ringing, but thankfully that was toned down to a minimum. Orthodox churches, in general, are fiendishly devoted to ringing loud bells at all opportunities throughout the year and thus it is very unpleasant to live in the vicinity of a church in this part of the world.
By the way, if you complain about the bells, they just tell you that bell ringing “drives off the Devil” so therefore it must be the evil inside of you that objects to the sound, not because you’re a normal human being who enjoys peace and quiet.
In Romania, it’s pretty common for priests to stop by and give you a “blessing” in exchange for a healthy cash donation. I was expecting a bit of that around here but apparently Moldovans are too poor for the fat priests to make a scheduled visit to the bloc. If you want the “blessing” in Moldova, you’ve got to arrange for it yourself.
I was also looking out for colindari, or groups of children singing Christmas carols in exchange for bits of food and/or cash. In Romania it’s roughly equivalent to historical Halloween, where kids put on a show and get a treat as a reward. But alas, I didn’t hear or see any colindari in this area.
What I did see, however, was an actual by-God genuine Gypsy, something that’s pretty rare in the Republic of Moldova. She came inside the bloc and was knocking on doors and asking for cash donations. I nearly gave her something just because I was so thrilled to see a real Gypsy, but in the end I gave her nothing.
My standard policy on Gypsies (as well as homeless/indigent people of all stripes) is to give food, advice, help, non-alcoholic beverages and other forms of assistance, but never cash. Usually I give people bananas* and I would’ve given the Christmas Gypsy one if I would’ve had one, but alas I did not.
* – If you really want to help an indigent person, the best food in the world to give them is a banana. I’ve given out dozens of bananas to Gypsies in Romania and they’ve all been voraciously devoured on the spot. They’re really the perfect food as they’re sweet, they’re soft (important for people with severe dental problems) and they contain a lot of calories, as well as vitamins and minerals. They’re also a natural food (not processed), require no cooking or heating to eat, and are compliant with every religion and belief system and lifestyle on the planet. Bananas are the best!
Other than all of the above, about the only thing of note that happened was a barrage of fireworks in the late afternoon. Moldovans, in general, are obsessed about fireworks, setting them off on literally any occasion. I expected them on New Year’s (which were so large and intense that they sounded like an artillery barrage) but in the 5 months I’ve lived here, not a single week has passed without hearing fireworks pop off to commemorate or celebrate something or other.
And that’s not even including the fireworks that individuals (100% of which are male) set off for fun on a regular basis. Little shops and stores sell fireworks everywhere here, and they do a brisk business. I was even in a food shop (owned and operated by Transnistrians) last week when someone exploded a firecracker right in the fucking store. If you are a war veteran or have PTSD from gun-related violence, Moldova is definitely not the right country for you, as the pops and booms will trigger your anxieties on a regular basis.
Other than fireworks, a single beggar Gypsy, and commerce rolling on as usual, there wasn’t much to distinguish Orthodox Christmas from any other freezing cold day around here. Of course in the churches there were big, pompous ceremonies, which I skipped as I’ve already spent hours of my life enduring these things, but I did “patriotically” tune in to Radio Moldova and listen to a bit to the Christmas service.
Moldova has a general tradition that the day after Orthodox Christmas is also a holiday, sort of the equivalent to the British world’s Boxing Day, and since that fell on a Thursday, it was easy enough to roll Christmas into one big 5-day holiday to cap off the tail end of the winter holidays.
None of this affects me personally, as I don’t work or study here, but it does mean that I’ve had to skirt around dozens and dozens of drunk partygoers as they inure themselves to the bitter cold (it was -15C on Christmas morning) with enormous quantities of beer and brandy. My guess is that this will all taper down to the “normal” level of public drunkenness starting on Monday next week, when everyone has to reluctantly drag themselves back to their underpaid jobs.
AND NOW YOU KNOW ABOUT ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS IN MOLDOVA!