Religious Beliefs. The religion of Moldova is Eastern Orthodoxy. A wooden or glass icon representing Christ on the cross or the Virgin Mary and the child is present in almost every household, even when its members are not fervent practitioners. Children are raised in "the fear of God" and are taught how to cross themselves and say prayers at an early age.
Ceremonies. Christmas and Easter are the most important holidays and are celebrated even by those who rarely go to church during the year. These holidays were celebrated even under the Communist regime. The Christmas tree is adorned and the gifts are given on Christmas Eve, and usually there are two festive dinners, one that night and one on the 25th of December itself. The traditional Christmas meal in Moldova is called cutea and is made of boiled wheat grains, poppy seeds, sugar, vanilla, and lemon mixed in boiling water. Other traditional Christmas foods are sarmale (stuffed cabbage or grape leaves), roasted pig, and sausages.
It is customary to fast the week before Easter, or at least on Good Friday. The Saturday midnight service takes place inside and outside the church, and everybody present is supposed to hold a burning candle and protect it against wind or rain as a symbol of Christ's endurance and resurrection. In every household eggs are meticulously painted; in peasant families drawing on eggs often becomes a real art. Very large loaves of bread and poppy or cheese cakes are made for Easter, usually round in shape and called pasca.
Saints' days are celebrated and name days are as important as birthdays. Saint George, Saint Peter, Saint Mary, and Saint Nicholas are some of the most important saints in the religious calendar of the Moldovans. Saint Nicholas, the patron of children, is honored on 6 December, and children receive gifts that night as well as at Christmas.
Arts. One poem depicts the name "Bessarabia" as a church projected into history with four white steeples, the chimes of which have been stolen. Poets in the first part of the twentieth century, such as Todor Plop-Ulmanu, wrote verses about the beauty of the Romanian language and expressed a poetic conscience haunted by the drama of a split national identity. More recently, notable literature has been written by Emilven Bucov, Andrei Lupan, Ion Druta, and Leonida Lari. A resurgence of Romanian ethnic consciousness currently animates the arts. Numerous institutions carry the names of Romanian intellectuals such as "Ion Creanga" for a pedagogical institute, or "G. Muzicescu" for the Kishinyov Institute of Art. Since the 1970s, cultural institutions such as the Moldovan Drama Theater or the Moldovan Opera have hosted the staging by Romanian intellectuals of entirely Romanian productions such as Ovidiu (named after the Roman poet exiled to the Black Sea) and Sînziana and Pepele (two of the most popular folk heroes), or Luceafirul (the name of Eminescu's greatest poem).
Moldovan folk music, dance, and other art forms are also basically Romanian; most folkloristic groups have Romanian names such as "Taraf," and they play on typically Romanian instruments such as the cymbal, panpipe, bagpipe, and cobza (a kind of guitar). The most common dance at Moldovan parties is the Romanian Perinitsa. The decade of the 1980s was marked by ever-increasing struggles to assert a Romanian identity, through demands for a Latin alphabet and the official use of the Romanian language, together with appeals to the authorities to recognize and take measures against the gloom of environmental disaster. Moldovans continue the struggle to be heard as a Romanian nation and to reappropriate the "stolen chimes" for churches.
Death and Afterlife. The best way to describe the beliefs about death and the afterlife of the Moldovans is probably via the Romanian national ballad, Mioritsa. Of three shepherds who are caring for their sheep somewhere in the edenic hills and valleys of the Romanian landscape, the Moldovan one is warned by his closest sheep of a conspiracy by the other two shepherds to kill him and rob him of his flocks. Rather than seeking ways to escape his fate, the Moldovan shepherd greets his imminent death as if it were a cosmic wedding. Death is his bride; the sun and the moon are the godparents; the entire universe, with its stars, trees, mountains, waters, and birds, participates in this grandiose celebration and journey. The funeral and burial rituals of the Moldovans reflect the belief that death is a passage into another stage of existence, sad but not hopeless, a form of marriage with nature and the elements. A dying person has to hold a burning candle. The dead are dressed in their best clothes; virgin girls who have never been married are buried in a white dress, the equivalent of a wedding gown. The corpse has to be watched during a three-day and three-night vigil. Since death is seen as a voyage, a silver coin is often placed on the chest or in the hand of the dead person, to pay the customs at the passage through the other world. For the same reason, food, clothes, and earthen pots and jars are given to people at the funeral, thus symbolically providing for the long voyage ahead.
The traditional food prepared for funerals is called coliva and is made of cooked wheat, sugar, and lemon peel. Nine days, forty days, and six months after the death and then once a year, there are memorial services for the dead; the family prepares coliva, as well as other foods to be given in memory of the dead. Red wine is drunk by the people present and is poured over the grave by the priest performing the service, in the form of a cross; if the service is performed in a church rather than at the grave, the wine is poured on the coliva. In general, graves are carefully tended, flowers and bushes are planted on top of them, and candles are lit with each visit.
The living keep a constant relationship with the dead, often talk to them in their prayers, and ask them for advice and help in trying times as if, once dead, that person has acquired some sort of divine power. Dreams are often interpreted as signs from the dead. Dreaming of the dead is usually considered a good sign, whereas dreaming of small babies is feared as a sign of misfortune and danger.