Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cultural Customs and Traditions

As in most cultures and nations Moldovans value their customs and traditions and pass them on from generation to generation. Each generation adds new shades to the multitude of colors that make the nation’s heritage richer. Moldovans enjoy celebrating and when they get together for a party there is plenty of everything; copious amounts of food, a multitude of singing and dancing which continues until the next morning. Moldovans celebrate religious holidays, Soviet era holidays, and newer holidays that emerged after the country acquired its independence. As I experience the customs and traditions of this small Eastern European culture that celebrates in a big way, I will post the objective information while adding my own subjective experiences. Most recently I attended a party called the “First Visit to the Baby.” Let me explain a little about the cultural traditions surrounding birth…

Every family tries to baptize the newborn child as soon as possible to ensure the Lord’s protection of the child and so that the he/she grows with faith in God and becomes a good Christian. Even during the Soviet era when many customs and traditions were lost, the baptismal was one that was kept by almost every family. The families would baptize their children far from their homes, usually in their parents’ native village where elderly family members (grandfathers and grandmothers) took care that the ritual took place because people were persecuted for religious beliefs. Sometimes the family would take the child to the church late in the evening or the priest would come to their homes late at night to baptize the child in secret.

Today, people are able to share any religious beliefs, and baptizing is done openly. Families go to the church with relative s and friends to baptize the child. The parents of the child choose a few other married couples to baptize their child. They can be relatives or friends, or people the couple respects, but they should be older than the parents of the child. They are called cumatri or godparents. The child’s parents go to the houses of the cumatri approximately one week before the baptizing takes place to ask them to honor their family and baptize the child. They bring some wine to serve the future cumatri and plated bread called colac, to offer them. It is an honor to be asked to baptize the child and it is not customary to refuse. The parents of the child call them cumatri while the child will call them nasu/nasa or nanu/nana. The cumatri will call the child fin/fina. If you accept the responsibility and honor get ready spend some money and assume some responsibilities. Typically the cumatri will spend future celebrations for the child with the family, bringing plenty of presents.

To prepare for the baptizing cumatri have to buy some of the items needed at the church including (but not limited to): candles, flowers, and a towel (or piece of cloth) called a crijma. The candles are lit inside the church and are kept in the hands of the cumatri during the ceremony. During the ceremony the priest brings males into the altar but not the girls. After the baptismal all the women helping to baptize the child will wrap the baby in the towel or cloth previously purchased. In the church the child is kept by the nanasa, who is the godmother of the parents’ wedding (this will be explained later on when I talk about wedding traditions). The mother of the child is not allowed into the church and will stay outside for the entire service. The priest will later come into the corridor of the church to pray for the forgiveness of her sins. In general the mother of the child is allowed to come to the church only 40 days after giving birth to the child. This is why the majority of baptismals take place six weeks after the child is born, unless the child is too weak and the parents need to baptize the child as soon as possible. In the case of a sickly newborn the mother will come to the church later on.

After bringing the child home from the church, all the cumatri gather the candles together, light them and make a crest above the door to protect the new baby. When they do this, they shout out loudly. These candles will be lit for three consecutive nights.

The cumatri also buy some other items for the child including clothes, toys, blankets, etc. When they come to the young couple’s home for the meal they will offer these to the child. A pillow is set on a table and some bread and salt on it. Every pair of cumatri will lay everything they brought in a common pile and say a wish for the child. After this the child is put on top of the pile and all the cumatri will hand the baby to the parents with the worlds: “De la Dumnezeu crestin, de la noi fin,” which means “A Christian from God and at last ours.” These words are said three times and then the child is given to the parents. After all the ceremony everyone eats a huge meal.

The Cumatria:
If the family wishes, they can have a bigger party for the child the same day or later on. This is called cumatria. People eat, dance and have fun! Besides the cumatri, other relatives and friends are invited to celebrate the birth of the child and are called laturasi. Typically, there are two meals, the first one with mostly cold dishes, and the second one with hot food and dessert. In between the two meals people dance and thoroughly enjoy themselves.

At some point during the second meal the cumatri are given bread as a present which is sometimes covered with a piece of cloth, towel, blanket etc. The wedding nanasi are given an even bigger present than the cumatri (as they were their for the couples marriage from the start). When the cumatri and nanasi are given their present, they give some money to the child. The sum of money given depends upon how rich the present is that is offered to them. Again, the wedding nanasi will be expected to give a larger sum of money than the other cumatri. The other guests also bring presents for the child; these are usually smaller than the ones brought by the cumatri. When every couple donates money they also wish the parents and the child the best and are served some wine. Then everyone dances, often until 2 or 3 in the morning!

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