That greeting may seem two weeks too late, but followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrate the Birth of Christ on the 7th of January, in accordance with the old Julian calendar. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar asked the astronomer, Sosigenes, to devise a more reliable calendar. This we know as the Julian Calendar and was used widely for 1500 years. However, this calendar was still 11 minutes and 14 seconds longer than the solar year, so that by the year 1580 the calendar had accumulated 10 days off. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII corrected the difference by ordering 10 days to be dropped from October, the month with the least Roman Catholic Feast days. His calendar we know as the Gregorian Calendar, which is used in almost all of the world today. Therefore, January 7th by the Gregorian Calendar would have been December 25th by the old Julian Calendar.
Christmas is a day of both solemn ritual and joyous celebration. Christmas Day is a public holiday on January 7th in countries such as Belarus, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Macedonia, Serbia, Russia, and a few others. Religious observances of Christmas center around special worship services, which are characterized by the extensive use of candlelight and are often held at midnight, but there are also morning services.
For us, the day started off with a two hour Church Service and then right after church we gathered at the house for food, celebration, and conversation! We had a wonderful time – amazing food and amazing people all around us.
In Macedonian households a variety of traditional dishes are served on this holy day; Pogacha, Prase Pecheno, Selsko Meso, Sarma, etc… Before lunch is served, there is a blessing of the Pogacha (celebratory bread) followed by the Lord’s Prayer, led by the father of the family. A prayer of thanksgiving for all the blessings of the past year is said and then prayers for the good things in the coming year are offered. The head of the family greets those present with the traditional Christmas greeting, “Christ is Born!” The family members and other guests respond with, “Glorify Him!”
As always, our Christmas day was spent at my parents’ house and most of the food was prepared by yours truly – I did not roast the pig and I didn’t have anything to do with the Pork Jelly or Aspic. But, the rest is mine.
1. Сирење во Фурна – Sirenje vo Furna – Oven Baked Cheese
Baked cheese is made with three different cheeses – crumbled white cheese (similar to feta), shredded mozzarella, grated fresh parmesan – baked inside of a clay baker for 20 minutes. This creates a distinctive golden brown crust on top, yet it’s soft and warm on the inside. We usually serve it with homemade flat bread.
2. Селско Месо – Selsko Meso – Village Style Pork Meat
This is served as a main course. Selsko Meso consists of pork, red peppers, onions, and seasonings – salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper. The meat can be baked or sauteed, but I always sautee it first, then I transfer it to a clay baker (clay bakers are associated with authentic Macedonian cuisine) and I put it in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top is crispy.
3. Руска Салата – Ruska Salata – Russian Salad
I have yet to meet a Russian that has seen/heard of this salad. It is said that the name was given during the USSR era because of all the different ingredients used in it; the variety of ingredients symbolize the variety of people that lived in the USSR.
This salad is incredibly delicious. It’s also incredibly high in calories, fat, sodium … all the good things! That is why I only make it three times a year; Christmas, Easter, and my father’s Name Day. Ruska Salata consists of quality ham, white cheese, aged and ripened cheese, carrots, pickles, hard-boiled eggs, and peas. All the ingredients are chopped and mixed in with Mayonnaise. Sort of like a 7-layer salad, but better!
4. Пита со Сирење – Pita so Sirenje – Three Cheese Pie
I made this in place of the traditional Zelnik, which is composed of really thin layers of dough, then filled with either cheese, or spinach, or meat, and topped with another layer of thin dough. Because that method takes a while, and my 17-month old would not have it, I had to make something that wouldn’t take as much time. I bought the fillo dough and prepared the three-cheese filling with eggs, butter, feta cheese, romano cheese, mozzarella cheese and smoked bacon. Everyone was a bit bummed about the missing Zelnik, BUT they did enjoy the substitute!
5. Сарма – Sarma – Stuffed Cabbage Leaves
Served as a side dish, cabbage leaves are stuffed with minced pork and beef mixed in with white rice and seasonings.
6. Пилешки Стејк во Бело Вино – Pileski Stejk vo Belo Vino – Chicken Breast cooked in White Wine Sauce
Chicken breasts are not a part of our traditional menu, but I have to have a bit of “Americana” on the table. I cooked the chicken in white wine sauce and topped it with sliced portabella mushrooms – DELISH!
7. Пифтија – Piftija – Pork Jelly or Aspic
This is as traditional as it gets; you can’t have Christmas without Piftija! Piftija, or Aspic, is a dish in which ingredients are set into a gelatin made from meat, in this case, pork stock. When cooled, the stock congeals because of the natural gelatin found in the meat; just before the aspic sets, the stock is filled with pork meat and vegetables.
8. Таратур – Taratur – Yogurt and Cucumber Dip
This side dish is similar to Tzatziki, but not the same. The variations are in the extra ingredients used in Taratur and in the thickness of the yogurt; the yogurt used for Tzatziki is as thick as a spread, whereas the yogurt for Taratur is a lot thinner because Taratur is meant to be eaten with a spoon. This dip, or salad, is usually served in the summer months, but my father can’t wait that long.
We also served a side of roasted garlic potatoes, pickled vegetables (Macedonian traditional winter food), smoked meats, variety of salads, pumpkin cheesecake – another bit of Americana – and a chocolate banana cake that I made, but I have no picture of because it was all gone before I could even get to it. Yeah, it was that good!
I wish that I could have taken pictures of everything while I was preparing the food, but that was really impossible to do. I had two days to get it all together – I could do it before I had my baby girl, but now that is almost impossible.
We couldn’t find daddy to take this picture with us – I think he was downing shots of Rakija (moonshine) with the other guests.
Христос се Роди! Christ is Born!
Wishing you all a bright and blessed year ahead!