New Year's Eve celebrations in Skopje, Macedonia - Global Storybook

How Macedonians Celebrate Christmas & the New Year

Kristina Laskova

Kristina Laskova

Kristina Laskova is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Macedonia).

Kristina Laskova was born and raised in Macedonia, however she loves to travel and explore new places and cultures. She has a graduate degree in Philology, and she's been working as a creative freelance writer for several years now.

Kristina believes that traveling is the best way to see the world in its true colors, without any obstacles and distractions. She's also a passionate photographer, who aims to capture the wonderful places that she visits in the most vivid way possible.

She's here to take you on a journey through the cultural and natural heritage of her beloved homeland, Macedonia.
Kristina Laskova

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You may have already heard that Macedonians celebrate Christmas a little bit differently than most other countries.  However, if you haven’t visited Macedonia during Christmas or the New Year’s Eve, then you might be wondering – how is it like?

The official religion of Macedonia is the Orthodox Christianity.  Therefore Macedonians celebrate Christmas according to the old calendar (the so-called “Julian Calendar”) on January 7th, which is actually “December 25th” on this ancient almanac.  So if you are curious to find out what else is different about Christmas and the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Macedonia – read on!

Christmas in Skopje, Macedonia - Global Storybook1. Macedonians don’t exchange gifts on Christmas 

Unlike most other Christian nations in the World, Macedonians don’t really exchange gifts on Christmas.  Now, this might sound sad, especially for children… And you’re probably thinking: “Doesn’t Santa visit Macedonia for Christmas? Or are all Macedonian children so naughty that they don’t deserve Christmas gifts?”

So let me explain.  Santa does visit Macedonia and our children do believe in him!  The only thing is… he’s always a bit late (or rather early) since he visits Macedonia on the New Year’s Eve!  And instead of Christmas, most Macedonians exchange gifts on the New Year’s Eve.

Christmas gifts exchange in Macedonia - Global Storybook2. Most of the gifts that Macedonian kids receive from Santa are not… toys

For some reason in Macedonia, Santa Clause is not only late (or rather early), but he also mostly gives children a bunch of candies, juices and other types of snacks instead of toys.  Of course, there will be a toy or two here and there, but most of the gifts that Macedonian kids receive during this festive time are candies and snacks.  They would normally be placed in a nice holiday bag under the Christmas tree, right after the New Year’s Eve.

Christmas candy - Global Storybook3. In Macedonia the New Year’s Eve euphoria is much bigger than the Christmas Eve’s

Yup!  Macedonians are much more excited for the New Year’s Eve celebrations than for the Christmas Eve’s.  It probably explains why we tend to exchange gifts on January 1st.  Macedonians would usually celebrate Christmas in the company of the closest family members only.  They would sit down for a traditional dinner and then spend the rest of the evening watching Christmas movies or listening to Christmas carols.

On the other hand, New Year’s Eve is a very exciting time in Macedonia.  Its preparations start as soon as December arrives.  That’s when Macedonians begin decorating their Christmas trees, planning where and with whom they will spend the New Year’s Eve, purchasing gifts for their loved ones, buying new clothes for the New Year’s Eve party and so on.

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Recently, numerous Macedonians started going on a trip with their family or friends on the New Year’s Eve.  Belgrade, Istanbul, Thessaloniki, Sofia, Milan, Rome, Budva, Budapest, Vienna, Paris, Bucharest and other popular European metropolises, are now some of the most common choices to spend the New Year’s Eve at.

NYE in Macedonia - Global Storybook4. Macedonians also celebrate the New Year’s Eve according to the Julian Calendar

January is a very festive month in Macedonia.  We not only celebrate the New Year’s Eve on December 31th, but we also celebrate it again on January 14th, according to the above mentioned Julian’s Calendar!  Fun fact is that we actually call it the “Old New Year”!

Although, the second celebration is definitely not such a huge deal as the actual New Year’s Eve (on December 31st).  Since Macedonians are extremely festive people, we also celebrate the “Old New Year” by gathering together with family and friends, eating some delicious food, and dancing to some popular music.

Alexander the Great Monument in Skopje, Macedonia on Christmas - Global Storybook5. The birth of Holy Fire and Kolede 

A day before the Christmas Eve on “Kolede’s Eve”, Macedonians would gather in their districts and ignite a bonfire in the honor of the Holy Fire.  It’s considered to be a miracle which occurs annually on the same date, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  They would then eat and dance to some traditional Macedonian music.

In addition, the locals would take a bannock bread with a hidden coin and divide it in smaller chunks so that everyone present would get a piece.  The person who finds the coin in his or her bread, will be named as the best man (or woman) of Kolede’s Eve for the year.  That person would also be the one to ignite the bonfire, as well as make all the necessary preparations for the Kolede’s Eve during the next year.  Macedonians perform this custom on the Old New Year’s Eve as well, though with a much smaller group of people.

Once the locals go home, they would start baking the so-called Kolede cookies.  They would then give them out to children who’d come in that night or during the next morning to sing Kolede songs in front of their doors, along with some nuts, chocolates, candies and coins.

Christmas in Skopje, Macedonia - Global Storybook

Photo: Kiro Popov/

6. As part of the traditional Christmas dinner, Macedonians serve bannock bread with a hidden coin! 

Christmas is actually automatically associated with the bannock bread and the hidden coin in Macedonia.  In fact, it’s a very old and interesting tradition.  On the Christmas Eve, Macedonians would take a loaf of bannock bread and hid a coin inside it.  Then split it into as many pieces as there are members of the family, plus leave one for God.  The one who finds the coin will be the luckiest person in the family during the next year.  In case if the coin is hidden in God’s piece – it would mean that He will give the entire family a year filled with happiness, health and prosperity.

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Afterwards, Macedonians would drop the coin into a glass of red wine (which is a symbol of Jesus’s blood).  And then each member would take a sip for happiness, health and prosperity of the whole family.

Another similar custom would be to take one of the walnuts served on the Christmas table and crack it open.  If it’s nice and fresh on the inside – it’s believed that the upcoming year will be a good one.  On the other hand, if there’s a worm inside, then the next year will not be as nice…

bannock bread, Macedonia - Global Storybook7. Macedonians believe that God comes to taste the family dinner during the Christmas night!

Many Macedonians would leave some leftovers from the traditional Christmas dinner on their dining table until the next morning.  They actually believe that God will come to have a bite on the Christmas night!  Right before we sit down for dinner – we’d turn off all the lights, leaving only a candle at the table.  We would then invite God to come and dine with us, with the following words: “God please come to dine with us”, repeating that sentence 3 times.

Gurabija, Traditional Macedonian desserts - Global Storybook

Gurabija – the traditional Macedonian dessert

8. Fish is the Macedonian “Turkey”! 

The traditional Christmas dinner in Macedonia consists of mostly the fasting food.  Hence instead of turkey we would usually serve fried or roasted fish.  Moreover, numerous Macedonians also hold a fast for 40 days – from November 28th until the Christmas day!

Here’s what you will surely find on our traditional Christmas table: fish, the bannock bread, a pie with leek, some boiled beans, cabbage rolls (known as “sarma”), boiled pumpkin, boiled potatoes, a vegetable salad, different types of nuts, as well as different types of dried and fresh fruits, red wine, soda or juice.

Baked Carp fish in salt crust, Christmas in Macedonia - Global Storybook9. Oak branch is the Macedonian “mistletoe”!

The Oak branch, often referred to as the “Christmas branch” by our locals, is the Macedonian version of mistletoe.  This tradition is believed to have been born in the 4th century.  Since then it’s considered to be the symbol of health, happiness and prosperity.  It’s also believed that Joseph used oak wood to start a bonfire to warm up the newborn Jesus and his Mother Mary.

In addition, oak is considered to be an eternal tree, since it can reach a very old age.  That’s why numerous Macedonians would place an oak branch on their Christmas table.  Some would also put it all around the house, as part of the Christmas decorations.  Many also believe that the oak’s features (long life and strong endurance) can transfer to the people who live in the house.

10. Macedonians believe that everyone should be in their own home for Christmas

In Macedonia, there’s a traditional saying: “No matter where you are, you should always be at home on Christmas”.   And that’s what it’s like in Macedonia.  Unlike in some other countries, where people would go on trips for Christmas or even spend it in someone else’s home –  in Macedonia we prefer to be at home, with our closest family members on the Christmas Eve.  The big celebration, including trips, clubs and visits of other people’s homes are saved for the New Year’s Eve!

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How Macedonians Celebrate Christmas & the New Year - Global Storybook

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