I’ve spent a number of Christmases away from family. It is nothing new for me. I had a number of years when my children left to spend the day with their father, a Christmas in Germany entirely by myself, a tinsel filled Christmas in Korea and when my children left home it just didn’t seem to make much sense to do anything for the holiday as they were celebrating with their new loved ones and perhaps new families. So living in a community where Christmas is not celebrated will be a piece of cake for me.
Yes, you heard that right–where Christmas is not celebrated. I live and work in an Albanian community that is also about 99% Muslim. They don’t celebrate Christmas at all. The only thing “celebrated” is “New” New Year and “Old” New Year. That is traditionally done by cleaning the house from top to bottom and perhaps setting off some fireworks. We work right up until 31 December and then take three weeks off for winter break. However, the teachers still have to show up at school if only for 15 minutes each day. They will come in and have a cup of coffee and then leave. There are no decorations here in the villages. In Skopje there are some decorations and Christmas music plays in anticipation of Orthodox Christmas on 7 January. The mall is very festive but I have yet to see a real Christmas tree or a Christmas tree lot.
A couple of friends and I have a few holiday activities planned. The Bolshoi Ballet is broadcasting a live stream of The Nutcracker at a theater tomorrow. That will be an amazing experience. May be the only way I ever get to see the Bolshoi perform. Then Christmas Eve we are going out to dinner at my favorite little Italian place. Christmas Day after work we are going out for coffee at a yet undetermined location. Some of the younger volunteers are having a Christmas party this weekend but I don’t plan to attend. Sleeping on someone’s floor is not my idea of a relaxing way to spend the night after people have had more to drink and eat than they should. I’ll stay home and read.
My host family parents have taken off for Switzerland for three weeks to visit Nazifete’s brother. I understand she comes back with a suitcase full of chocolate when she does this. And since she is using my middle size suitcase I would imagine it will be a lot of chocolate! But that leaves me and four young adults plus a two year old in the house. Hopefully they will not leave any messes around the house. Having observed them in action, I don’t think they will but one never knows. They jokingly got me an apron when they went shopping last night (it was actually a promotional give away) for when I have to cook for this crew. Nazifete keeps joking that they are going to be gone three months. I told her if she does that, after a month I’m going to Switzerland and bringing her back home.
So Christmas will come and go unmarked by any of the extravagance that we Americans ascribe to the holiday. It will be a day like any other day of the week. I’m living in an Albanian community, working in an Albanian school and thus will observe the day the way Albanians do–by doing what I do every other day of the week.