Written by Gabriela Tanevska

They say Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year: warm homes, families getting together, a lot of homemade delicious food, sharing stories, exchanging presents and enjoying being together. This is the picture we usually have in mind when we think about Christmas. However, Christmas traditions vary between countries and nothing proved this to me more than studying abroad.

Last year I moved to Slovenia to pursue my Master’s degree and started learning about the culture and traditions of this country. Slovenians, being Christian Catholics, like many other nations in Europe, place a huge emphasis on celebrating Christmas. The festive period starts really early, usually a month before the actual holiday and goes on until New Year’s. Lights and decorations make cities look like winter wonderlands. During this month, a lot of Christmas markets are organized in city centres. There is usually live music during the weekends and people get together, eat freshly made street food, drink mulled wine to keep them warm, and buy presents for their loved ones. On Christmas day, you can see a lot of people running around the city making the last preparations for dinner. In the evening, the city is quiet, as everyone is at home celebrating with their families. This is how Christmas is typically celebrated in Slovenia.

I come from Macedonia, a country where most of the people are Christian Orthodox. We celebrate Christmas a little bit differently. For instance, our Christmas is not on the 24th of December, but on the 6th of January. On this day, little kids go from door to door singing carols in exchange for sweets, chestnuts, coins and other small gifts that they collect in their sacks. This lasts until around noon.

Afterwards, dinner preparations start. The Christmas dinner table is usually filled with pie-shaped homemade bread and traditional food. Macedonian traditional dishes include ‘sarma’ – rice rolled in cabbage leaves, fish and ‘gravce’ – a boiled beans dish. We drink red wine.

But the most important dish is the homemade bread because it has a coin inside. So, the first thing we do is to cut the bread into as many pieces as there are family members. Everyone gets to choose their own piece. Whoever gets the piece with the coin inside will have luck, love, good health and money throughout the year, according to popular beliefs.

Sometimes, when I was little, I would get disappointed if I did not get the coin. Most of the times my sister was luckier than me and I would get mad at my mother because I thought she somehow gave the coin to her on purpose.

Now, we spend the rest of the night together recalling memories like this, laughing about the times when my sister and I would fight about who gets the coin and looking forward to many other Christmas celebrations together in good health, peace and love.

Unfortunately, last January I couldn’t go back home for Christmas. In Slovenia, holidays end right after New Year and school lectures resume right after the holidays. However, I was lucky enough to have my sister visit me during the first week of January.

We didn’t have a traditional dinner, but what was more important to me was that we were together. This year I won’t have a chance to go home either. But, given the advances in technology, I am pretty sure I will have a Skype Christmas video call and will be able to choose my piece of the bread. Hopefully, this time I will be lucky enough to get the coin and enjoy the good fortune it brings.