Срекен божик! Времето грее сонце и свежо. In case you ever wondered what Macedonian looks like, it's a cyrillic alphabet, which means I am always confusing something that looks like an H in English but is pronounced like an 'n' in Macedonian! What I said above was Merry Christmas. The weather is sunny and warm, which it is today. Two days ago was the Orthodox Christmas. While Christmas itself is a quiet family dinner holiday, Christmas Eve rocks. At the church below (above is a picture of the clock tower and downtown xhami, or mosque) they shot off fireworks to start off the event. People go to the church to light candles for loved ones, alive and dead, and touch the icon for their saint - most people and families have saints associated with their names. Then out they go to the church yard where a tent was set up and men were handing out cupfuls of rakija, the local distilled product. Rakija is used for a lot in ethnic macedonian households - to treat sickness, for massages, to lower fevers, for breakfast pick-me-up, and for celebrating everything or nothing, for that matter. By the rakija tent a traditional band of a bass drum and another drum and two instruments that looked like simplified wooden clarinets was playing. At one point, the old Roma woman who was begging in the crowd even picked up her skirts and danced to the music. In another corner, a huge bonfire was burning with the traditional oak tree in it - oak branches are a traditional symbol of Christmas here. People took home oak branches from a couple of huge boxes of them to stick on their door - Children go to houses displaying them to get candy (though I have to say I think the kids here go around to houses for every holiday to get candy). Young adults go out to clubs after all the town festivities for Halloween like costume parties! It is definitely not a somber religious celebration.
Yesterday and today there has been a sadness that has hung over the town. The bus station has been crowded with buses and families as relatives who work somewhere in the EU take their leave and go back for work. It seems ironic that this culture that values families being close by has been forced to send husbands, children and whole families away to find work and make money. Now it will be summer before they all return, and then bus station will again be filled with tour buses and big cars that choke the roads. One side note, during the holidays many come back and get married, so there has been lots of weddings in the past few weeks!
I've lived in Gostivar a little over a month now - hard to believe! It has been a very festive month, and there is one more festival to go. Wed. I head down to Ohrid and then over to Vevchani for the famous Old New Year carnival and celebration. I will remember my camera for this one and will take lots of pictures - it's supposed to be quite the deal. By the way, the NYTimes identified Ohrid, Macedonia, as one of the top must see destinations for 2010!