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Au pair from Moldova grateful for Steamboat family

Lilia Sula holds the children she cares for, 2-year-old Mateo Bartels, left, and 6-year-old Louis Bartels. Sula, a native of Moldova, is spending her second Christmas in Steamboat with the Bartels family.
Matt Stensland

— Lilia Sula isn’t agonizing about spending another holiday season away from home – the Moldova native has a second family right here.

Sula is an au pair for the Bartels family in Steamboat Springs and spends her days caring for and speaking French to Mateo, 2, and Louis, 6. She started working for the family in June 2007, and they asked her to stay another year. But Sula still misses the traditional celebrations of Moldova. The big party and gift-giving occur around New Year’s, she said, and Christmas in her Eastern Orthodox faith is Jan. 7.

“People for the new year : are very excited,” Sula said. “It’s the same. They decorate a tree, they buy presents, they put the presents (out) every Dec. 31, and, in the morning, the kids wake up and go under the tree for presents.”



Those are courtesy of Santa Claus, she said. Although some traditions are similar to those in the U.S., people don’t decorate their homes’ exteriors, she said, because electricity is expensive.

On New Year’s Eve, adults partake in a feast, drinking champagne and dancing past midnight, she said.



“Young people – for example, if I have a boyfriend – they kiss each other,” Sula said. “They say at midnight who is around you will be all year together.”

Sula grew up near the capital, Kishinev, in Moldova. The country, between Ukraine and Romania, was part of the Soviet Union and became independent in 1991. Sula attended Free International University of Moldova, graduating with a foreign language and translator degree. In addition to her native language, Romanian, she speaks Spanish, English, French and Russian. Sula also has a master’s in French.

New Year’s Eve was even more meaningful when she was in college, Sula said.

“After I finished school and went to university, I didn’t meet so often with my friends,” she said. “But this day was special because we could meet and tell about things. : Jan. 1 in my village at the disco we had a big party. All my friends, the next day at 8 in the morning, we slept a little bit, we napped and then said, ‘OK, let’s go to the disco.’ We didn’t sleep much for days.”

Six days later, the celebrating begins again with Christmas gatherings. In the villages, people slaughter their pigs, Sula said. Christmas marks the end of a 40-day fast during which people consume no animal products.

“The table, everything is from pork, the meat, little meatballs, different pies and inside is meat,” Sula said. “For Christmas Day in the morning, who is very religious, they go to church. After church, they have Christmas breakfast, lunch. Other people wake up and eat with family.”

The food includes polenta with meat sauce and sheep cheese, as well as a rice, onion, carrot and tomato sauce mixture boiled in grape leaves. Sula’s grandmother cooks delicious meals, she said. Sula’s mother and sister – her brother, Igor, also is in the U.S. – will sit down with grandma Jan. 7.

“My mom, they are five kids, and they come with their wives and kids, and they celebrate,” Sula said. “That is for Jan. 7. My grandma, she makes a lot of good food, and they can stay to talk and to eat.”

Sula said she would talk to her family for the holidays. Her mother said something was missing last year when Sula wasn’t at home. But she’s getting used to it, Sula said.

“A lot of people from Moldova, they are in different countries, but they try to go back, to come home,” Sula said. There are “a lot of people in Italy and in Spain from my country, or in Russia. If they can’t come, they send money home.”

Still, she said, it’s tough.

“It’s hard for the holidays if they’re not home,” Sula said. “We have a lot of families, the parents are in other countries, working, and their kids are with grandparents or aunts and uncles.”

Sula will return to Moldova in the summer. She hopes to go to school in France for another master’s degree, but she said it was difficult for Moldovans to leave their poor country.

For now, Sula said she was glad to be in Steamboat with a family that feels like her own.

“I love my family from Steamboat, and I’m so happy that I have them,” Sula said. “They are my family here, and now I have my second family from the U.S. : I feel like I’m in the family; I don’t feel like I’m employed.”


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