Our neighbors ate, drank and shared memories a few days ago in a place that may surprise you: the local cemetery.
They were there for Paştele Blajinilor, or Memorial Easter, a week after Orthodox Easter. Like families across Moldova, they gathered at the graves of their loved ones, placing flowers and food besides the tombstones, lighting candles and enjoying a meal together.
The photo on the left shows what the cemetery at the Biserica Acoperământul Maicii Domnului in Ialoveni usually looks like. On the right is the same cemetery on Monday, when Champa and I visited.
We saw dozens of families spreading containers of food and bottles of soda, wine and cognac on tables or cloths near the graves. They had traditional local foods along with colored eggs and special bread. A priest circulated to say prayers. Families visited with their friends and neighbors, sharing food and wine as they remembered grandparents, parents, spouses and others. They dribbled wine on the graves and left behind food and candles. The mood was friendly but subdued and respectful.
Our host family was out of town visiting the village home of our host mother. Yet we felt welcome among everyone we saw. The woman in the middle of the photo with Champa knows us. She and her daughters stopped us as we were wandering around and insisted we share some food and wine with them. They also gave us a small gift bag with treats inside. Many families also use this occasion to donate food and small gifts to the poor.
Paştele Blajinilor, which traces it origins back to pre-Christian times, is celebrated widely in Moldova and parts of neighboring Romania. It reminded me of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, although the religious significance is quite different since it coincides with Easter instead of Halloween.
The church you see here is on a hill on the other side of Ialoveni from where we live. As usual in Moldova, we traveled there on foot, walking about 9 km. roundtrip on roads still slick and muddy from a recent spring snowstorm. The trip was worth every step. We were moved by what we saw and felt privileged to take part in such a memorable event, a picnic in a cemetery to feed your soul.