Being a very family oriented person, one of the most difficult times to be away from home for me is Christmas.
However, Orthodox Christmas is celebrated a little different than what you may be used to.
First of all, it is on a different date! We celebrate Christmas on January 7.
The reason for this is that the holiday is calculated used the Gregorian calendar. Another big difference is the length. In Macedonia and other countries, there is a total of 5 days of Christmas-related traditions that everyone tries to honour.
It all starts with… singing!
January 5th is “Kolede”
On this day, children go from door to door singing Kolede songs – much like the Halloween trick-or-treating in the USA, except instead of sweets, the Kolede-goers receive fruits, nuts and coins.
Later that night, we all gather around Bonfires! Where I live, the bonfires are lit in the parks between residential buildings; they require weeks of planning, safety checks, logistics – but also the preparation of traditional foods for over 100 guests.
The whole neighbourhood raises the money together for this event, which promotes the spirit of unity. The bonfire is lit from oak trees and people gather around it to socialize, talk about their year and wish each other happy holidays.
At the end of the night, people pass around a bread with a coin cooked in and everyone breaks off a piece. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of bread, will have good fortune for the whole year. Also, because of their good fortune, whoever finds the coin is next year’s host of the bonfires. Last year’s host was my mother and she would agree about the good fortune for the whole year part!
January 6th is Christmas Eve
For many people, this is the last day of the 40-day Nativity Fasting period. The dinner served on this night is ‘posna’ which means no dairy, meat or animal products.
Christmas Eve is a time of peace and reflection and we celebrate it with a dinner with our closest family members.
A typical dinner would include assorted nuts, fresh and dried fruits, baked cod or trout with garlic, bread, kidney-beans soup, potato salad with onions and herbs, Ajvar (a traditional red-pepper dip), Sarma (rice and spice-stuffed cabbage leaves) and pickled vegetables. A traditional decoration for this meal is an oak branch with leaves.
At the end of this meal, family members break a coin bread, each receiving a piece, determining who will have a particularly successful year ahead.
January 7th is…Christmas Day
People who celebrate the holiday in a more religious manner, use this morning to go to a church service. This is also a day when people visit each other with the greeting “Hristos se rodi” (Christ is born) which is replied to with “Navistina se rodi” (He truly is born!).
Because the fasting is now over, the meals served on this day are a true feast: an abundance of aromas, colours and flavours; a real holiday for the taste buds. A typical Christmas dinner consists of various roasted meats, festive side dishes, cheese pies, creamy and fresh salads, cakes and sweets.
The Christmas celebration usually continues for 3 more days.
When it comes to tradition and celebrating and good fortune – all I can say in conclusion is this: the year when I was submitting my applications to graduate schools – the coin was in my bread piece at Christmas Eve dinner. And I can agree that the fortune served me well – I am at Purdue Calumet!
As for my Christmas aboard – I will be celebrating it with my new family of PUC friends, in my new hometown – but with traditional Christmas food. You are all invited!
Smiles and aeroplanes,