The past few weeks here in Skopje have been quite busy. I had been forewarned about the importance of the New Year's arrival and how well-celebrated it would be. In a place where many struggle to survive comfortably, the idea that a new year brings new promise and hope for improvement is truly a reason to celebrate! Town was completely buzzing with activity. Store windows in the Ramstor mall featured glamourous evening wear. A large stage was set up in the Plostad (center of city)for the New Year's Eve festivities. Grocery stores were absolutely swamped with customers, prompting extra cashiers and even baggers at Vero, leaving limited quantities of certain staples, numerous vendors were on hand with samples and promotions, and there were even staff directing traffic in the horrendously overcrowded parking lots. After all that activity, Vero decided to take a couple days off to restock and rest employees. It was unlike anything I have experienced during our time here. Add several days of considerable snowfall, and you have quite a stressful time getting out and about! It unexpectedly snowed several inches in the few first days of the New Year, leaving us stranded in our home for the weekend. Fortunately, we have several local markets in walking distance (one of the nicest features of this city) and were able to get the basic necessities.
We spent New Year's Eve at home, joined by some of our friends. It was a lovely day. My friend had hosted a New Year's Eve "mocktail" party for kids earlier in the day, which Arianna and Alina absolutely enjoyed. They used various juices and sodas to create tasty concoctions and rang in the New Year at Bangkok time with confetti and fanfare. It was really fun for the kids! Afterwards, my friend and her family joined us for a few hours. Although they didn't stay until midnight, we had an early champagne toast and enjoyed terrific conversation and tasty treats while the kids played downstairs. It was a really nice evening. Later, we woke up the girls to celebrate the real midnight. It was very loud, with tons of fireworks and horns. The neighborhood was alive with activity! The fireworks actually continued for several days.
With New Year's arrival, everyone turned their attention to Christmas. Most Macedonians belong to the Orthodox church which celebrates Christmas on January 7th. Again the stores were crowded and hectic, yet very festive. There are many interesting traditions associated with the holiday, and I found the following link which describes them wonderfully- http://www.ciee.org/hostfamily/holiday.html. We actually had a few Kolede singers come by the house, but not as many as I had hoped. Unfortunately, I think Yotee scared many of the children away!
On the 7th, we were invited to join Mladen and his family for dinner and we were happy to accept. We welcomed the opportunity to get to know their children who are visiting during their semester break from Virginia Tech. They shared a wonderful traditional meal including sarma (rolled cabbage stuffed with rice), sausages stuffed with cheese, cold pork with a spicy horseradish like sauce, potatoes, salads, etc. It was delicious and very appreciated! We had a very nice evening full of great conversation and terrific food. It was very kind of them to share their special holiday with us. This weekend, we are expecting their son to join us as we watch some NFL playoff action. He is big fan of American football, and is excited to see some of the games he is missing. We are truly lucky to have been assigned to this house. With the quaintness of the neighborhood, the beauty and space of the home, the attentiveness and kindness of the landlord and his family, and the comfort we have here, we feel so fortunate and look forward to a terrific year here!