January in Macedonia is all about holidays. Here are some fun facts I’ve learned through talking to people and Wikipedia in the last few days:
While the Gregorian calendar (the one we all know and love, that’s the international standard for dates) is used in Macedonia for all civil functions, the Julian calendar (aka the Orthodox calendar) is still used for religious holidays like Christmas, the saint days and some other holidays. The Julian calendar runs two weeks late as opposed to the Gregorian calendar. This means that in addition to Christmas being on January 7th, we’ll also be celebrating the old new year on January 14th.
January 6th is Kole Day! Kyle’s nickname in Macedonia is Kole, so it’s his name day. It started as kind of an inside joke with part of our host family in Vatasha, and now everyone calls him that. Integration at its finest. Kole Day is celebrated with bonfires; we spent the evening with a bunch of people we had never met before and Jennica, another volunteer who was here for PST and came back to visit, around a giant fire fueled by whole tree roots.
January 6th, Christmas Eve, is when all the kids essentially go trick or treating. They go from house to house, and are given food by everyone in the neighborhood (mostly nuts and fruit). We didn’t have any kids come over, which is probably for the best since the puppies are now running around the yard and will follow anyone they think will love them. We did go visit the neighbor’s house for lunch though, which was fun except for when I got to answer more questions about my least favorite conversation topic: when we’re going to have babies.
The Christmas Eve meal doesn’t have any meat or animal products, with the exception of fish. Violetta spent all day making it, and I helped roll out some of the thin dough for the zelnik, which is this flaky layered doughy thing filled with leeks. We also had beans 3 different ways (soup, tavche gravche, and with tons of garlic), and roasted squash. SO DELICIOUS. There’s also a loaf of bread that you decorate with symbols of your home – a little house, the people and animals, placed around a cross.
There are a lot of traditions that go along with the meal. An extra seat and place setting is laid out for God, and you don’t clear the table until the next morning in case God decides to stop by for a meal during the night. Everyone starts eating together, and no one can leave the table until everyone is finished (it’s bad luck otherwise). A piece of bread is baked with a coin inside; Sasho ripped apart and distributed the bread, and I got the lucky coin in my piece so I’m going to have good luck all year. After that, you put the coin in a glass and fill it with wine, and then everyone takes a sip out of the lucky coin wine and the rest gets put with God’s place setting. You then take a piece of your bread and wrap it in a napkin to put under your pillow that night to give you good dreams. I had really weird dreams last night and couldn’t sleep from 4 am until 6:30, so I don’t know what that says about me. After dinner we had some wine and fruit and I played backgammon with Zoki.
Also, January 4th was our host dad Sasho’s birthday! Violetta made a giant delicious cake (that I also got to eat with breakfast the next day, which I think really demonstrates how awesome our host mom is) and we all ate dinner together and it was a low key, fun night.
On the same day, our Christmas package from my parents finally arrived!!! I don’t think I’ve explained the saga of our package on here yet. After being shipped from LA on December 14th, it went through the normal process of going to NY, going through US customs, and then being sent on its way across the pond. On the 20th, it showed up on the USPS tracking thing as having arrived at the airport in Skopje, and I both surprised at how quickly it had arrived and happy that it would be here in time for American Christmas. Then things took a weird turn, and it was sent back and forth from Vienna to Skopje EIGHT TIMES, sometimes more than once in a day, stuck in some terrible technological failure loop. After about a week of this happening, my parents contacted the post office in the US, who said to let them know if it still hadn’t arrived in 35 DAYS. My work counterpart suggested emailing the airport, which I did even though I didn’t know what they would be able to do about it. I also emailed Macedonian customs because, why not? Lo and behold, that day it finally left its travel loop and entered customs in Macedonia (I never got a response from either email, so I have no idea if that is what did the trick or not). It took another week to get to us here in Sveti Nikole, and I was so excited that I ended up waking up my parents like a 5 year old on Christmas morning to open it together on FaceTime (to be fair, I waited until almost 8 their time, and the box was just staring at me!)
Also, for the sake of catching up: New Year’s at Puze was AWESOME! So much food, music and dancing. The owner at one point gave us some giant flags to wave around. We came home early, at 2 am.