Today is St. John the Baptist’s Day in Macedonia, commemorating Jesus’ baptism, so we had yet another day off of work. Kyle’s work counterpart, Susanna, invited us to celebrate with her family. While we live in Sveti Nikole, Kyle’s work site is about 20 minutes away by car in Mustafino, a village with one paved road and more sheep than people.
Today’s holiday is celebrated with one of the most culturally incongruous ceremonies I’ve ever heard of. In below freezing temperatures, the devout young men (and those looking to show off their bravado) strip down to their underwear and run into a water source, in our case the stream that runs though Mustafino, in search of a cross the priest has thrown in there. The man to find the cross secures good fortune for the year ahead. Because they’re participating in a religious activity, God is looking out for their health and the participants are not subject to the normal rules regarding being underdressed in the cold. We arrived at the stream a few minutes too late to see this whole display, which was kind of disappointing, but we did take a long walk around the village and got to hold a 3 day old sheep (!!!).
The traditional food served on Saint John’s day is бифтија – basically meat jello. I’ve been pretty open about trying new foods while we’ve been in Macedonia, but this is where I draw my line. Especially when every time someone brings it up, Kyle chimes in with a round of “head, shoulders, knees and toes,” a basic summary of the ingredients. You take pork meat, assorted joints and bones, and boil it all down over a couple of days into a jelly. BLEGH. I can barely stand to look at the stuff. Kyle tried it and confirmed its grossness, so I didn’t have to. Some people here love it though – our host dad ate 3 full bowls before heading to work today, and then had more for dinner.
Besides that, we had a really fun and delicious day with grilled pork and lots of homemade wine and hot rakija. Kyle and Susanna’s nieces made friends with all of the village dogs, and they showed us around their farm. It was nice to get out of town for the day, and I’m excited to go exploring around the village again soon.