Here in North Macedonia, the Orthodox Church is the dominant religion. We also see and hear many mosques. This weekend (a week later than in the Netherlands) the Orthodox church celebrates Easter. Because my grandfather, a teacher in ancient Greek and Latin, introduced Greek Orthodox traditions into our Easter celebration that we still keep, so we were very curious how Easter would be celebrated here. Therefore we booked two nights in guesthouse Antiqua in Prilep (21€/night 😳) which profiles itself as that they like to show their guests around.
On the way to Prilep we looked for coffee and turned off to Topolchani, a very friendly looking village with more tractors than cars and a large school building but no facilities. Or does it? There turned out to be a shop with two tables in front of it. Oscar asked if we could get coffee. That was possible. The butagas burner was lit. I picked out a few bars. I was allowed to pay for those but not for the coffee that was an Easter present the owner said in welspoken English. We started talking. This year Easter will not be celebrated very much because life is very expensive at the moment. But the main thing is to go to church at midnight and eat eggs afterwards. Colored hard boiled eggs – I get to see a picture of a nice basket of golden-yellow eggs with chocolates in between. The eggs are tapped and eaten just like in our home with salt, pepper and vinegar, but also with raw onion. We didn’t know the latter yet. ‘It’s very tasty.’ says the lady. We both love sharing our experience. After a last hug for the endearingly sweet dog and exchanging our blog, we get back on track. I’m now even more excited about what’s to come.
In Prilep we encounter a huge Easter rush, even with two constibels who (de)regulate the traffic, and indeed an extremely friendly host who is willing to share almost everything about life in North Macedonia with us. A few years back he found a job at DHL in Eindhoven (NL), just like all his peers looking for the big money. Here it is hard work for little money. Many people therefore work a few months per year in the catering industry abroad, where they have about 2000€/ month in addition to room and board. In the winter they are in their own country and celebrate holidays. Here you can get by on 400€/month, with 600€ you can already afford considerable luxury, with 800€ you can go out and celebrate every day. So that’s not a bad deal.
His family could not agree on the sale of the 150-year-old guesthouse (he is the 5th generation owner) and he decided to refurbish and take it from there. Then he got a very good offer from a guest from Austria to come and work there, but then Corona hit and now love binds him. This morning and his girlfriend came handing out hardboiled easter-eggs and chocolate before they started cleaning.
Anyway 16 km after the meeting in Topolchani, eggs with vinegar sounds just as strange as most people in the Netherlands consider it (yes, it is really tasty), but he was happy to show us which church we should go and explain how things go. It’s quite a happening, he said.
At 11pm we step outside. Soon we hear singing from different sides. Candles are sold everywhere on the street (so we buy some too) and a whole lot of people move in the same direction. The chant appears to be intended to attract people to church.
People are piling up around the church. People who want to go inside get a cross on the forehead and kiss a religious image. Inside, behind the wall with icons are a 4(?) priests singing. The visitors are listening and periodically make 3 crosses with or without 3 bends to the ground. Older people stand/hang/sit along the edge. Men on the right, ladies on the left. Oscar is addressed by one of those gentlemen: it is not respectful to stand with your hands behind your back, your hands should be held next to the body. It is accepted though to talk to each other and/or walk back and forth. Everyone has candles in their hand – shoot, we, with many others, have already lit them at the door and put them in appropriate holders -. No worry: by the time the highest priest comes into the church with his retinue (4 other priests, and a whole series of altar boys with and without staff or robe and a men’s choir) to light the candles of the people in the church with his candle, the same man comes up with 2 candles for Oscar and me. Everyone follows the priests outside where the clergy climb the detached tower and from there take care of something that sounds like a sermon until at twelve o’clock, discarding all the singing and prayers the bells ring, all the lights turn on and we hear eggs breaking everywhere. Apparently you do that in your own community, we can’t see it happening, until we see thick cheeks and papers with egg peels all around. The old guard seems to be going back into the church, the young people, dressed-up for Easter, walk into the city centre, leaving behind the candles and the egg (shells). On to where the disco thumps. Truly a happening.
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