Merry Christmas!

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A holiday table spread with white linens, plates, wine glasses, a variety of foods and red flowersThat 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.

A table filled with dishes from a traditional Macedonian holiday mealIn 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!”

A round batch of Macedonian Celebratory Bread
Погача – (Po-got-cha) – Celebratory Bread

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.

A table of Macedonian holiday dishes labeled with numbers 1-8 

1. Сирење во Фурна – Sirenje vo Furna – Oven Baked Cheese

Top view of a bowl of oven-baked cheese that is browned and bubbly 

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

A dish of 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.

A scoop of creamy Russian Salad on a plate 

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

A square of Three Cheese Pie on a plate 

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

A batch of stuffed cabbage leaves in a pan 

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

Top view of yogurt and cucumber dip in a dish 

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! 😉

Sliced smoked meat and sliced cheese arranged on a serving plate 

An oval platter of creamy Russian Salad decorated with sliced carrots and black olives in the shape of flowers 

Deviled Eggs on a platter 

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. 🙂

A mother holding a little girl dressed up for the holidaysWe 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! 🙂

42 Responses
  1. Drick

    what a wonderful celebration – beautiful food and what I would not do to sample some of it… everything looks and sounds heavenly… Happy New Year to you…

  2. Priscilla - She's Cookin'

    What a magnificent spread! I always enjoy reading about the history and traditional foods of different religious and cultural celebrations. I’ve had stuffed cabbage rolls made by a very dear friend’s mother each year – she’s Polish and calls them haloupkis (sp?) but they’re melt in your mouth delicious! May the year ahead bless you and your family with health and happiness!

  3. Chef Gerald@bistrogerard

    Merry Christmas! This looks like a gorgeous feast, everything is just amazing! The Russian salad sounds very tempting 🙂

  4. Melissa

    Merry Christmas! My dad’s side of the family is Ukrainian so we celebrate twice, Dec 25 and we do our Eastern Orthodox on Jan 6th (Christmas Eve). We also do the cabbage rolls but have pierogies (varenyky) fried in onions and bacon bits and kielbasa (pork sausage) as well. I can’t wait for the Russian Salad recipe! We make something similar but nowhere near as tasty sounding!

  5. Adora's Box

    What a fascinating celebration! I love reading about foreign traditions. It is so wonderful that you have all these traditional food to celebrate the occasion. I particularly like the celebratory bread.

  6. Mina @ Angellove's Cooking

    Mery Christmas Kate!! Great menu!! I love your Погача – even everything else is just perfect!! And you and your daughter are absolutely adorable!!! Lovely photo!!!

  7. Lefty

    Wow. Between the food and the culture, I’m pretty sure I just celebrated an Eastern Orthodox Christmas in my head. It was fantastic!

    Everything looks wonderful. Truly. Merry Christmas!

  8. Stefanie

    You and your daughter are so gorgeous!!

    I just learned so much from this post! I feel a bit more cultured now. 😉 I hope you had a fabulous Christmas!!

  9. whatsfordinneracrossstatelines

    Merry Christmas, we to celebrate a different day. I love your bread, I make one, but no where as beautiful, it’s round, covered with fruit, coins, and ribbons. Have a great week.

    1. Kate @

      Hey Gina! We make a bread similar to the one you described, only we decorate it in that way when it’s for a wedding or a christening.

  10. 5 Star Foodie

    Wonderful Macedonian specialties to celebrate! I’m from Ukraine originally so definitely well familiar with the stuffed cabbage and russian salad, my all time favorite, and very neat to learn about the others, everything looks spectacular!

    1. Kate @

      I’m going to put up the recipe for the Russian Salad real soon and I hope that those that have not tried will give it a shot. It’s not fair that only a select few of us know about this hidden gem. 😉

  11. Claudia

    Merry Christmas! Your feast it outstanding – just beautiful. but nothing shines as beautifully as you and your daughter. What joy you must have had!

    1. Kate @

      Thank you, Claudia! Yeah, Ana makes everything a whole lot more enjoyable…didn’t know I could love as much as I love her!

  12. Baking Serendipity

    This all looks fantastic, but I want a big piece of that bread most right now! I’m such a carb lover and it looks over the top fantastic 🙂 Wishing you a fantastic new year ahead as well!

  13. The Mom Chef ~ Taking on Magazines One Recipe at a Time

    Glorify Him! Armenians celebrate on the 7th as well.

    All the food is amazing but that celebratory bread is absolutely breath taking. It is perfect. Thank you for sharing so much of the food with us that way.

    The picture of you and your daughter is beautiful too. Ana reminds me very much of our Dudette when she was that young (oh I wish I could get her into tights and dresses now!).

  14. Sandra

    Srecan Bozic dear to you and your family! I love everything on your table..smell of Christmas!!!:))
    Photo of your daughter and you is just gorgeous!!!
    Russian Salad /or Olivier salad is my favorite..but I could go with one of each dishes from your table!

  15. Krissyp

    Beautiful job! I have actually had that Russian salad , a girlfriend from Astonia shared with me. Delicious! Thanks for sharing all of the details and beautiful photos of your feast.

  16. Frank

    And a very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    This looks like a lovely meal, and a beautifully set table. Must have been a wonderful feast.

  17. Sydney

    Ever since I lived in Russia, I like to remember the Orthodox Christmas on the 7th as well. Alas, we didn’t do much celebrating for it this year, but I really enjoyed your post about it! There were some tidbits in there on the history that I didn’t know before so thank you. 🙂 Great photos!

  18. Christina

    What a beautiful feast! Thank you so much for sharing your special holiday traditions with us! Your daughter is gorgeous! Just like her Mama. 😉

  19. claudia aka pegasuslegend

    What a spread wonderful! I love that cheese pie along with everything else omg wonderful Christmas with that precious baby girl!

  20. A little bit of everything

    Merry Christmas Kate.
    Your traditions are not to different from my family, I’m born Greek Orthodox.
    Almost every meal you presented you’d find it on our table on Christmas. Pork, chicken, sky high calorie Russian salad (we also add boiled chopped potatoes to it) aspic, stuffed (deviled) eggs
    your melted cheese pot sounds very tempting and easy to make.
    thanks for sharing.
    hope you’re having a wonderful day,

  21. Trish

    Merry Christmas! What a wonderful feast you have here. I’m already craving the baked cheese dish and stuffed cabbage…yum! Thanks for sharing. P.S. Your baby girl is so precious!

  22. Susan

    This is such a beautiful feast! Merry Christmas to you and your family! I think the Russian salad and your stuffed cabbage rolls look so beautiful ! Was so impressed by the Christmas bread also! Your family is lucky to have your cooking skills!

    1. Kate @

      Thank you, Susan!
      That Russian Salad is incredible…seriously…I could have an entire plate, but I have to control myself! 🙂
      My family was really happy with all the food … glad I made it!

  23. Mateja

    Your daughter Ana is cute as a button, God bless! And what a beautiful spread, Kate! It is obvious that a lot of love was poured in every dish, and everything looks so darn yummy! Wishing you many more happy prosperous years to spend in your family circle! It is a little late, but still: Sretan Bozic i sve najbolje u Novoj 2011 godini ^_^

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