Have I mentioned that Macedonia celebrates Christmas in January? While my loved ones in America were winding down from the holidays, taking down decorations (or accepting that they’ll remain up until April), Macedonia was just getting started.
The main religion here is Eastern Orthodox, which follows the Julian calendar. (In America, they follow the Gregorian calendar, FYI.)
Both calendars celebrate Christmas, but the Julian calendar marks the day on Jan. 7.
The preparation started last weekend, when my host mom baked everything under the sun. There is still more baklava than I know what to do with. (That’s a lie. I’m going to eat all of it.) She also made little cakes called “Russian hats” that are frosted, sponge cake sandwiches, rolled in coconut. (Those didn’t make it through the week.)
The biggest part of the celebration was Christmas Eve. My host mom’s daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren came to stay with us and we made a huge dinner. Before dinner, they lit a candle, everyone crossed themselves and then we tossed money under the table.
No one could tell me why we tossed it under the table. They all just said it’s part of the tradition, but the money itself has to do with wealth and luck for the year. There was also an arrangement of oak leaves under the table. According to my language teacher (who was wrong when he thought he escaped my incessant questions when training ended), the oak leaves are a symbol specific to the Balkans, used as decoration during Christmas. We burned it later on and my teacher said the fire represents calling the sun and spring. (Hurry please. It’s cold.)
My mom also handed out gift bags to all of us. This isn’t a traditional part, but I think she did it to incorporate the gifts that are a part of the Christmas I celebrate. It was sweet. (I got 100 denar and a bottle of spray deodorant.)
After the money tossing, we sat, poured the rakija and wine, and my host dad spun a loaf of bread in his hands a few times. Then he tore off a piece for everyone around the table and a piece for all the immediate family members who weren’t there. (I have another host sister who lives in Germany.)
I played monkey see, monkey do for the entire dinner. When they tossed money, I tossed money. When they poured rakija, I drank rakija. When the bread was passed around though, this monkey got confused. Everyone at the table started tearing the bread apart.
I tentatively started to follow suit, confused until my host sister announced that she’d found it. There was a coin inside the loaf of bread, and the person who finds it has luck for health and wealth for the year. One of my coworkers later told me they’re also supposed to get all the money that we tossed under the table. At that point though, the two-year-old grandson had already collected all of the money and hidden it somewhere, so I’m really not sure who ended up with it.
After the lucky bread, my host dad passed out fruit, figs, walnuts, and an assortment of other items to everyone at the table, also for health in the rest of the year. (They even set aside a pile for my friend Rachel, who visited the next day.)
And then we ate everything.
- сарма:(sarma) cabbage stuffed with mushrooms, onions and other veggies
- бaничka: (bah-neech-ka), layers of dough with sautéed leeks and onions
- луtицa:(loo-teetza) cold, potato and pepper salad
- A bean spread, with a little kick to it
- боп:(bop) white bean soup
They don’t eat meat or dairy on Christmas Eve. (Some people fast and don’t eat any meat or dairy for 40 days leading up to Christmas.) This meant the vegetarian in the room could eat everything on the table, which was super.
After dinner, before the food coma set in, I watched the two-year-old run around and dump a glass of wine on the table. I also cleared the plate of baklava on the table. (Sorry, not sorry.)
That was the only plate cleared, because another tradition is to leave the food out for Jesus. (I had a long discussion with my friends from Sveti about whether I should leave the last piece of baklava. I didn’t.)
The next day, Christmas day, was completely relaxed. My friend Rachel arrived for a three-day visit. We drank a lot of coffee and walked around my village. Then we walked home with some sassy sheep. (Whenever one of them made a wrong turn, the sheep lady threw a stick at them to get them back on track.)
The rest of the day we just hung out with my family. That’s the focus here: eating well and spending time with family. I love that.
I think that people do a lot of visiting on Christmas, but since the grandkids were visiting, we hosted the visitors instead. You’re supposed to greet each other saying, “Христос се роди” (Christ is born). The response is, “Навистина се роди” (Indeed, he is born).
Rachel and I visited my host mom’s nieces that evening, hung out with the cutest dog in Macedonia and watched the Christmas wishes videos. Companies can pick a song, send in video footage and then one channel plays the music video, their footage and has a Happy Christmas message across the bottom of the screen from the company. Interesting.
So Happy Christmas to all from T. Swift. I hate myself a little for knowing the words to all her songs, but oh well. She’s just as catchy in Macedonia.
Oh, and of course, Среќен Божиќ/Happy Christmas from Julie.