Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Moldovan funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Honduran funeral traditions and Tongan funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
Moldovan Death Beliefs
Moldovans believe there’s another life after death that’s described as a marriage with nature. This belief revolves around the Romanian Ballad of Miorita about three shepherds — specifically one who’s from Moldova.
The Moldovan shepherd hears from his sheep Miorita that the other shepherds plan to murder him and steal his sheep. However, instead of trying to escape, he embraces his death. He tells Miorita not to tell the other sheep so they don’t grieve.
Instead, he says to tell them that he married a princess. The elements of nature make up all the wedding details, like the mountains being the priests. But a falling star at the wedding represents the shepherd’s death.
For this reason, Moldovans believe that everyone has a star and a tree. The star represents death while the tree represents life. When someone dies, they plant a fir tree by their grave. They also believe that everyone should have a baptism, wedding, and death. So if a woman dies unmarried, they bury her in a white dress to represent a wedding dress.
Death doesn’t mark the end of the relationship for Moldovans. They continue to talk to the deceased through prayers and ask them for life advice. It’s also considered a good sign if they dream of the deceased. However, dreaming of small babies means bad luck or danger may occur.
The wake can last several days and nights before the funeral service and burial. Everyone gathers to share stories and memories of the deceased. It’s important that they never leave the deceased alone, so someone is always watching over the body. They place a silver coin on the deceased’s chest or hand for their journey to their next life. They also leave out food, drinks, and necessary tools for their journey.
Moldovan Funeral Service
For a Moldovan funeral, there is a mixture of cultural and religious beliefs. More than 90% of Moldovans are Orthodox Christian, so a Moldovan funeral typically follows these traditions. For a church funeral service, the priest pours red wine onto Koliva — a funeral cake made of wheat and other ingredients. If it’s a graveside service, the priest pours the red wine onto the grave in the shape of a cross.
Nine days, forty days, six months, and one year after the death, there are memorial services to honor the deceased. They serve Koliva and other traditional dishes. When they visit the gravesite, they light candles to honor the deceased’s memory.