I’ve had some trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this year. No matter how many times I’ve been away from my family for the holidays, or the fact that I live on the opposite side of the country/in a completely different country than they do 99% of the time, being away at this time of year is always hard for me. Christmas Eve with my cousins and Chinese food and Christmas day at the movies are my favorite family traditions, and they’re hard to recreate anywhere else. And on top of that, this year we’re in a country where Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, according to the Orthodox calendar. It felt so strange on the 25th to have all the normal signs of Christmas around (lights, trees, music) but to be the only one feeling like that particular day was a holiday.
To add to the weirdness, I actually ended up in a church on Christmas day. As someone who doesn’t partake in any religious activities, the irony of spending my first Christmas in a church that wasn’t even celebrating Christmas made me want to burst out laughing during the service. It was the first time I’ve ever been in an Orthodox church, and getting the opportunity to observe the services was actually pretty cool. While it wasn’t Christmas here, it was a holiday – the saint of the day was the patron saint of craftsmen, and so the church was packed with men there to receive blessings from the priests. I was there with my work counterpart, who was there to have a piece of bread blessed for her mother, who couldn’t attend (the bread has something to do with her health and seemed similar to a Catholic communion, I’m still not certain about the meaning of almost any of the Orthodox practices but that was the best explanation I got). After that it was a regular work day, but I did leave a bit early to make dinner for our family – fried rice! and baklava we made the night before.
The day after Christmas we went to Rankovce, a village in our region, to celebrate with some other volunteers. We made a giant meal, had a white elephant gift exchange (I stole an awesome purple scarf), and just relaxed and hung out together. It was a really nice change of pace, and there were two inside dogs that I got to play with. We had a little bit of time to explore Kumanovo during our bus layover on the way back, and overall it was just a really nice time with really nice people.
New Year’s Eve is coming up in a few days; we’ll be headed to Puje, a famous local restaurant, with our host brother and his friends for a night of eating and drinking and dancing ourselves to death. I’m actually expected to stay out all night (as in, until the morning), we’ll see if I actually make it through. Stay tuned for Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Macedonian Edition)!