For centuries back, traditions and customs in Macedonia have had a powerful impact on the collective mind and soul of the Macedonian people. Not only they have not been forgotten, but rather are vividly practiced today still.
These traditions and customs have been tied with the religious holidays. But time has made that thin line that separates both being blurred and erased. Non-religious people in Macedonia today also exercise the traditions as they have become a staple part of the Macedonian identity.
This week a major religious holiday will be celebrated in Macedonia. Easter. The Macedonians in general are Orthodox Christians by belief. And as the Macedonian Church goes by the older Julian calendar, the holidays are celebrated on a different date than most of the world.
Everything begins on a Thursday morning, before Sunrise. The women, who are the spiritual strongholds of the family values and traditions in Macedonia, start the preparations.
The first thing they do is to take the previously acquired eggs and boil them. As the egg symbolizes life, it’s one of the most important parts of the celebration.
They proceed in colouring the boiled eggs. The first three eggs are always to be coloured red, which symbolizes the blood of Jesus.
The first egg is dedicated to God. The second egg is in honour of the host of the household. And the third egg is for prosperity and happiness.
Dozens of eggs are coloured, and other colours and shades are added which creates many works of art. The first three eggs are kept throughout the whole year, as it is believed that they have a magical power and it will protect the homes.
There are many customs regarding the holiday that differ from region to region. I will mention one of them.
On Saturday night, before going to Church, people take a bath. Whilst bathing, they take one of the red eggs and gently go through with it on the body, leaving soft red lines. And after, the same is done with Zdravec. This symbolizes that the person has been calling to have a good health throughout the whole year.
Families, friends, believers, all head towards their nearest Churches, where a ceremony is set to begin. They carry with them some of the boiled eggs, which they would be using later.
There the Priest and the Monks chant loudly passages from the Bible, and people get in line to light their candles with the Holy Fire.
The clergy circles the Church three times. And they get to the starting point just as it strikes midnight. After which they loudly rejoice three times with the words: “Christ has resurrected!”. To which people enthusiastically reply “He really has resurrected!”.
At that point people start another ritual, or rather a fun competition of cracking the boiled coloured eggs. Doing it in pairs, people try to crack the eggs, each taking turns. As the eggs crack, people peel them off, and eat them on the spot.
After this is done, people carefully step out of the Church yard, and head towards their homes with the candles still being lit. They leave the candles to burn in their homes. In that way the essence of the Holy Fire will be brought and it will bless the family and home.
The following day the celebration is followed by a big family lunch, which includes all kinds of everything. Relatives visit each other and spend long hours together.
As another part of the tradition is the people visiting the cemetery. Macedonians have a custom to go to the cemeteries for some religious holidays and events, and visit their departed loved ones.
Eggs and some food are being laid down on the tombs of the dead. The symbolic of it is that, it is believed the departed in this way will also be able to eat and be part of the celebration.
It is one of the ways Macedonians have to continue their spiritual connection with those who have gone, to honour them and have them still being present.