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Guide to Hederlez, the Gagauzian Horse Day Celebration

July 23
6 min read
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Table of Contents

    Hederlez is a Gagauzian holiday of horse racing, traditional games, food, culture, and handicrafts that occurs on May 6th in Moldova. It is also celebrated in parts of Central Asia, Russia and Turkey. In Moldova, the main celebration takes place in Ceadir-Lunga at Prolin Equestrian Farm, and signals the start of the New Year for raising cattle. Continue reading below for a complete guide to Hederlez and how to celebrate the popular Gagauzian holiday!

    Where to Stay for Hederlez

    People from all over Moldova make their way to the south to catch a glimpse of this celebration. There are a few hotels in Ceadir-Lunga and Comrat where you can stay for the day if you don’t feel like driving to and from Chisinau, or wherever you’re visiting from. There are more options in Comrat, since it’s the closest large city to Ceadir-Lunga. It is possible to just visit for the holiday by either renting a car, taking a taxi, or the bus to and from Chisinau but it can get pricey and crowded on the buses due to the popularity of the event.

    When I attended the event, half of my group stayed overnight in a hotel in Comrat, and we took taxis to and from Ceadir-Lunga. The other half rented a car and commuted round trip from Chisinau. We had no difficulties with either option. If you’re looking for hotel options or are considering staying in Comrat, be sure to check out my Travel Guide to Comrat for tips and tricks!

    Getting Around Hederlez

    The good thing is once you’re at the event then all you have to do is walk around! When arriving at the event, you will either park or be dropped off at this field that has abandoned small aircrafts. From there, you will need to walk up a hill to the horse farm, which is where everything takes place. To leave, you will need to walk back down the hill to the field where you parked and where all the buses and taxis will be waiting. Be sure to have a taxi number ready to call from Google, or to ask for the number of your driver who brought you to the event. The last bus to center Ceadir-Lunga leaves at around 4PM.

    Tickets for Hederlez

    More good news! Entrance is free to the event! Once inside, you will need to pay for any food, beverages, handicrafts, or some activities that you choose to participate in. Note that this event is CASH ONLY! Bring cash ahead of time because no vendors will accept cards and there are no ATMs at the horse farm.

    What to Expect

    The festival vendors and activities start at 9 AM and continue until 2 PM. During this time, people will look at the booths that share information about Gagauzian culture and heritage, grab food and drinks, walk around to the craft vendors, and participate in traditional Gagauizian games.

    Around 1 PM is the opening ceremony where important figures in the community will give speeches about the importance of the holiday and preserving their culture. Then hundreds of children, men, and women will perform traditional dances on the race track.

    The horse racing will start around 2 PM, with traditional Gagauzian games and competitions occurring on the race track in between races. I suggest claiming your viewing spot around the racetrack by 1 PM, otherwise you might not be able to see anything.

    Bonus tip: be sure to bring toilet paper! The only toilets nearby will be porta potties, which are… porta potties.

    What to Drink

    First of all, bring water! There is not much covering or areas for shade available so you don’t want to dehydrate! Some vendors will sell water, but it will cost more than if you bought directly from the store and it will be one of the first items to sell out. In addition to water, vendors will be selling homemade wines, a few Gagauzian brand wines, and beer.

    A glass of beer cost around $4 and a cup of homemade red wine cost me around $2. Grab some drinks and watch the horses… Noroc!

    What to Eat

    It is a festival so it will be the Moldovan version of street and festival food, which are often kebabs and a few barbecue items. Some of the vendors sell pre-cooked meals, while others are grilling right there for a fresh meal. The food will cost around $5, but you will need to wait in long lines. There are also a few sweet options like candy, ice cream, and cotton candy for sale.

    When I was at the event, my friends and I had chicken kebabs for $4 each and tasted okay. Our favorite was definitely the cotton candy which was $1 and bigger than my head!

    If you’re new to visiting Moldova or have a sensitive stomach, I recommend bringing tums or alka seltzer. Better safe than sorry and you definitely do NOT want to be having an upset stomach in the porta potties.

    What to Wear

    Dress in comfy clothes that offer sun protection and you don’t mind getting dirty because you will mostly likely be sitting or standing near the dirt horse track. In May, the weather is starting to warm up in Moldova. At this event, there is little to no shade so you will most likely get sunburned. Bring sunscreen, sun glasses, and maybe a hat to protect yourself! My friends wore sunscreen ( I didn’t) but we all got super sunburned after being in the sun for 6 hours. I had tan lines for a month after!

    Guide to Herdelez

    Hederlez is a time-honored tradition that holds a special place in the hearts of Moldovans. Whether you’ve learned about the customs, rituals, or the rich history associated with Hederlez, this guide to Hederlez has provided valuable insights to maximize your visit. The most important thing is to be open to learning and participating in this unique cultural event.

    Planning a visit to Moldova? Check out my complete travel guide!

    Planning a visit to Moldova? Read my city guides below:

    Travel Guides to Comrat, Hincesti, Orhei, Orhei Vechi, and Soroca.

    Other travel inspiration for Moldova:

    Moldova’s National Wine Day Festival

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