Where in the World is Rene?

The weblog of an American Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia

The Holidays

So the thing about Macedonian holidays is that you never really know how many there are and when they are going to spring out and scare you like an ultimate-punching ninja. I can be walking down the street and -bam!- it’s Epiphany! Freaky! Actually, I am fairly sure that everyone else knows when the holidays are, they just don’t like telling me.  There are quite a few of them over the course of December and January and I’m giving you the run down of what they are for (if I was told) and what I did to celebrate them.

Christmas (American)

Yeah, I know (Joe) BOOORRRIIING.  But it was the holiday kick off so I’m including it.  I would have to say that overall my Christmas this year had a heartwarming rating of somewhere between Charlie Brown and Home Alone 2: Lost In New York.  Which I think means that there was a few nice “real meaning of Christmas” moments as well as “befriending a pigeon lady” moments.  No sticky bandits though, sorry.

My organization threw me an impromptu Christmas party on the 25th.  I had made some salsa for them to try, and Donka the program manager bought juice and cookies.  There is always a bottle of hooch in the filing cabinet and so they busted that out and we all sat around a screen saver of a fireplace and listened to Mariah Carey sing All I want for Christmas.  It was special.  Then I caught a bus up to Skopje to visit the Very Bob Cone Christmas Special.  Bob Cone is our Country Director, who had a party for the expats at his house.  When I got there, he was seated calmly in a rocking chair passing out presents to the lil’ Peace Corps Volunteers (I got a scarf! Yahtzee!).  Also made me kinda vaklempt.  The night ended with ice skating in Skopje whilst snow fell on the rink.  It was truely Kodak.

New Years

Went to a party in Skopje with some other volunteers and mostly played Catchphrase. The interesting part of the night was that on the cab ride over, my friends and I were held captive and forced to listen to a techno-elvis mix tape.  Also the driver proposed-first to Heidi and then to me clearly in front of both of us.  It was not special.

Window Smashing Eve

No one told me the name of this day, or possibly I don’t remember the name.  But it is Christmas Eve Eve (on the 5th of January b/c it’s orthodox).  So this holiday is kind of a wassail-type of holiday but with an edge.  Children go from house to house caroling and asking for treats like oranges, walnuts and pastries.  They also threaten to smash all of your windows if you don’t hand over the goods.  It is literally part of the cute carol that they sing.  Also, all of the adults light bonfires outside and drink rakija until they’re shit-canned at six in the morning.  Then they pass out full of holiday cheer.

Bozich (Christmas)

Bozich is Christmas.  It is on the 6th and 7th of January and as one sweet lil Macedonian devoycha explained to me: It is similar to Christmas in America, but instead of celebrating Santa Clause we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Uh huh, ok, interesting idea, little girl.  Bozich is a very family oriented holiday.   The night before is a special dinner to be enjoyed all night long with your family.  November 15th is when the Nativity Fasting begins, althogh most families do not recognize it until Dec 20th. No meat is eaten, especially at holidays, during this time and especially on Christmas Eve.  Also, a piece of bread is baked with a coin into it and is broken by the head of the household for every person at the table (also one for god).  Whomever gets the coin will recieve money and luck for the whole year.  Ane got ours- brat. The coin is then dropped into a glass of wine and everyone at the table drinks out of it.  If I were a religious person, I may have noticed the similarities between this and communion.  But I’m not and I had to be told by another volunteer. Whoops.  The next day is Christmas and usually families go to church in the morning (mine slept through it) and you can hear the chanting all throughout the town until mid-day.

Stara Nova Godina (Old New Year)

Old New Year is on the 14th of January and in most parts of the country is identical to regular New Year.  You dress up and party and go to a nice cafebar.  But in Vevchani the holiday is completely different.  It was a pagan tradition that on old new year, people would dress up like demons in order to scare away evil spirits in the town and protect it for the coming year.  So the villagers of Vevchani keep this tradiditon alive with some very interesting results. I did make it to the festival…but that’s a different story altogether.

Vesilica

Vesilica is actually a Roma holiday, and no one could tell me what it was for so I looked it up online and found this: Vasilica is celebrated due to the legend, that in days of yore, Roma people running away from the terror of the conquerors came to the “Great Water”, and the only deliverance was to reach the land by swimming the water. But, because most of them were women, children and elderly people, when they entered the water, it was very likely that they would down. Then, in order to save them, God sent them geese, which succeeded to save them from drowning, and take them to land. As a result of that old event and the mercy of God, they celebrate Vasilica every year as their traditional holiday.  This was one of those holidays that I found out about while people were celebrating it and I thought they had just invited me out for dinner.  I went with my organization to a hotel in Kumanovo and we enjoyed some dinner, drinks and oroing.  I’m told I slow danced with a secretary of Parliament. Whatever gets my projects approved.

Vodici (Epiphany)

This is Epiphany, the celebration of the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan.  In Macedonia it is a tradition to bless any large bodies of water around your village.  Ten a cross is thrown in and the men in the village swim out to capture it.  Big shout out here to heather and Aryn, two female PCVs who swam for it in lake Ohrid.  I did not choose to celebrate this holiday for two reasons 1) I have seen a matress float down the Kumanovska River and belive it to be 1/2 water and 1/2 radioactive waste 2) I am horrified of eating Piftia which is the traditional dish eaten on this day and can best be described as pig head jello mold with a smack of garlic.

So that is it…I think.  I may go to work tomorrow and no one is there because of “The Great Potato Day” and no one told me!

3 Comments»

  TerryR wrote @

sooooo…what about the other story from Vevchani? Tell us more!

  Jim Garnett wrote @

Rene,

After checking your blog, I see that you DID stay in Macedonia. Sounds like you did have a fascinating series of holidays.

Good job of telling about your PC work too.

Dr. G

  Jessica wrote @

hahaha…..I was thinking the SAME thing on epiphany- why is it so hard for me to figure out what days are, and what days are not, holidays?!? one year later and it still hasn’t improved. Fortunately in Topaana, holidays can’t sneak by as easily with the goats being slaughtered in my yard and whatnot.


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