The one thing that I really wanted for Christmas was snow. I wanted a white Christmas – after all, I was in Europe. Back home, Christmas falls in the middle of summer and growing up, many a Christmas day was spent splashing around in the pool. Everything is of course backwards in the Northern Hemisphere, with Christmas falling in winter [it’s just weird], so I figured that the very least Europe could do for me was give me a little bit of snow for Christmas!
I arrived into Skopje from Pristina in the late afternoon, and thankfully the hostel was less than a ten minute walk from the bus station. After settling in I headed to the gigantic supermarket on the main road to buy myself something to cook for Christmas dinner. It was possibly the best supermarket I’d ever seen, with everything you could imagine. I collected vegetables and herbs and lemons and chicken and tasty sweet things and a couple of bottles of cheap wine, getting stuck for a while in the grocery section as my one bulb of garlic weighed too little to register on their scales – I had to keep selecting new, bigger ones until I found one that weighed enough to buy.
Back at the hostel I cooked myself a delicious roast with far, far too many vegetables for one person to eat. I was waiting up until it would be an appropriate time to call home and catch up with my family – the time difference was ten hours and they wouldn’t be home in the evening. I waited until after midnight, when it was technically Christmas Day in both our countries. And in the meantime I thoroughly enjoyed a bottle of red wine.
On Christmas morning I woke up to find that Skopje had failed to receive any snowfall. I was terribly disappointed. Was one white Christmas too much to ask? Apparently so. However, upon checking Facebook I discovered that although I, in Europe, didn’t get a white Christmas, Melbourne bizarrely kind of did. Although not the nice soft fluffy kind that I had envisaged – one that was the result of an unbelievable hailstorm that rendered the ground white. Not only was Melbourne the victim of a hailstorm however; it also suffered a torrential downpour which decided to flood our house. Our house has been flooded a number of times, but this time it was on Christmas day when my family was miles away. So although I didn’t get my white Christmas, at least I didn’t spend Christmas night trying to bail water out of the house and rescue anything lying within a foot of the floor. Needless to say, I called home once I heard the news, to make sure everyone was alright.
There being nothing I could do from Macedonia, I decided to enjoy my day and have a wander around the city itself, having arrived too late the night before to explore further than the supermarket. Macedonia is an Orthodox Christian country, and so they don’t celebrate Christmas on 25th December as it’s done in the Catholic and Protestant churches. As a result, it was almost like any other day there, although being a Sunday many shops were closed. The main square was all decked out for the upcoming Christmas in January, and I counted at least seven Santas. A red novelty train roamed in circles around the square, attracting many a small child. A huge plasma screen played endless Christmas music, and yet it didn’t really feel like Christmas to me.
I crossed the river to explore the old Ottoman part of Skopje. As in the more modern section of the city, much of it was closed – but there were still a few shops with their piles of leather slippers and copper coffee pots, and other handicrafts and souvenirs. I looked in on a number of small mosques, and visited the colourful market filled with everything from fresh produce to fake designer clothing and assortments of junk. The cobblestone streets were almost silent, and tourists were nowhere to be found.
I stopped for lunch in a little restaurant, mainly because it was the only place I’d seen that was open. Sitting inside and ordering a half-plate of cevapcici [the staff warned me that a full serve was twelve sticks], I chatted away with the staff there who seemed to be happy to see a foreign face. A Muslim-run restaurant, they all wished me a very happy Christmas and inquired after my family, from whom I was so far away. They seemed genuinely concerned that I’d be spending Christmas alone, and as new customers – all locals, and all regulars – came in they introduced me to them. They were just as curious about me celebrating Christmas away from home, and they were determined to ensure that I wouldn’t spend the whole day without any company. So it came about that I spent the early afternoon sitting in this tiny, warm restaurant with the smell of grilled spiced lamb wafting through temptingly, chatting away with a group of elderly local men. The guys working there got be behind the counter to taste all the different pickled peppers and dips, and all in all it was good fun.
My Christmas ended as it had begun; with a roast dinner and a few bottles of wine, shared with one of the other guests at the hostel. Lazy, relaxing and generally enjoyable. Alone and away from home, it didn’t really feel like Christmas – but then, in Macedonia, it wasn’t really. Not for another few weeks.
And my white Christmas never happened. Of course, it snowed the day before and the day after. Just to spite me, I’m quite certain!