In an effort to recap the past month or so, my holiday season went roughly like this:
December 24/25: Western Christmas
Despite the western commercial trappings that have crept in to Macedonian Christmas culture, as a predominately Orthodox country, Christmas falls on January 7th. I spent Western Christmas (referred to as 'Catholic Christmas' by the Macedonians) with Americans, mostly current Peace Corps members or alumni. While it's difficult to be away from family and friends during the holidays, there is an instant camaraderie that forms when you are with others experiencing the exact same thing. We drank a good deal of rakija, and watched almost every Christmas movie imaginable online. Good times.
December 31st/January 1st: New Years
This is the real kickoff of the Macedonian holiday season. Given the already short, cloudy days of late December and early January, if one chooses to engage fully in this interminable, rakija-fueled, culturally-sanctioned bender, one may not see the sun until early February. Communist Yugoslavia worked really hard on lowering the importance of Christmas, and correspondingly made the secular New Year celebration a much bigger deal. I spent the Eve with Macedonians at a dinner party, followed by reservations at a music club that clearly ignored the notion of 'capacity'. On New Year's Day, there was yet another celebration, this time at a 'kafana'. A kafana is comparable to a combination of the country/western bar in 'Blues Brothers' and an Applebee's in America. They serve traditional Macedonian food, gallons of rakija, and have live 'turbo-folk' performances. Turbo-folk is traditional folk music, set to a disco beat. The singers (usually a greasy, hairy-chested man and a greasy, large-chested woman) trade off songs, work up a disgusting sweat. The audience then takes out money and sticks it to the singer, by means of that sweat.
The audience is also sweaty, dancing, and singing at this point.
January 6/7: Orthodox Christmas
Orthodox Christmas in Macedonia is marked by - I'll give you a second to guess - rakija and fire. On the 6th, giant bonfires spring up around the city, traditionally meant to give the sun energy and stop the loss of daylight. Now, they serve as focal points to more turbo-folk singing and dancing, and more rakija. Christmas day, I assume, is either spent recovering, or at mass. Or both.
January 14: 'Old' New Year / Vevcani Carnival
This is the liturgical New Year, and is marked by traditional village festivals all across the Balkans. Traditionally, villagers dress up in outrageous costumes to scare away the evil spirits who are allowed to roam the earth at this time, ensuring good luck for the next year. As you can guess, most of these festivals have turned into something more like holding a Halloween party at a fraternity on Super Bowl Sunday, where everyone invites their extended family. And all those people bring rakija. I attended the Vevcani Carnival, which deserves its own later post.
January 19: Celebration of John the Baptist
All across the Orthodox world, local priests use this occasion to bless the nearest large body of water by throwing in a cross. Numerous Orthodox faithful (or local Polar Bear club members) then dive into the water to retrieve it. The fellow who gets hold of the cross then wanders around the city and receives money from well-wishers. Swimmers prepare for this feat by drinking lots of hot rakija. They recover afterwards by drinking lots of hot rakija. I spent the 19th in Ohrid, where every cafe, restaurant, and random old man on the street were all handing out free hot rakija. Rakija rakija rakija.
January 20:Sv. Jovan, Day of the Fishermen
See above, but only the fishermen jump in the lake. Rakija.
February 2: SUPER BOWL MONDAY MORNING
I was able to drink beer this time. A friend of mine set up a late night, after-hours party at a nearby English pub. I had no idea there were so many Americans in Skopje, but I was gratified to know that, of this group, there were relatively few Steelers fans. At 4:30 am, the game ended, and thankfully so did my holiday season.
There was a trip to Greece thrown in somewhere along the way, but I'll get to all that later.