There are certain customs and traditions that are practiced in Chereshnitsa as in any other village in that area. Most of our customs and traditions are centered around the religious holidays. I will enumerate a few of these that we normally practice in Chereshnitsa.
The Christmas holiday religiously is not as important as is Easter. Socially and religiously both of these holidays are celebrated three days. We do not exchange presents at Christmas time as it is practiced in the United States. On Christmas Eve (otherwise known as Koleda) all the young men of the village go from house to house collecting wood. This wood is brought to the yard in front of the church where a big bon fire is built. The flames at times reach twenty-five to thirty feet in the air.
While the young men are busy building the fire, the children from the village go from house to house collecting chestnuts and bread rolls (bread rolls are a delicacy). As they approach each house, they sing a short song or recite short verses. Here are a couple of those verses: “Day mee babo Kolacheh da tee a zjeevo Younacheh” or “Day mee babo kostencheh da tee a zjeevo tchoupehntseh” (“ ” or “”). Literally translated means “Give me grandma a bread roll and may your boy (son, grandson) live long” or “Give me grandma a chestnut and may your girl (daughter, granddaughter) live long”. The gender of the verse depended on what kind of children or grandchildren were in the household. By the time the children finished collecting chestnuts and bread rolls, the fire in front of the church was now ready to roast the chestnuts.
All night the young men and children would roast chestnuts, eat the bread rolls and sing songs until it was time to go to church. Church services on Christmas as well as on Easter begin at midnight and last till about two o’clock in the morning. After church, they go home, take a short nap and they are now ready to prepare and have their Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner is very special because for forty days before every family fasted. Fasting meant no meat, cheese, butter or any such things. Our main staple during fast was thick bean soup, bread, and posna (lenten) pita or zelnik.
The second and third day of Christmas the dinner was repeated after church to make up for the long fasting. In some villages on the second or third day of Christmas, they would hire an orchestra and dance all day and night. Each village tried not to duplicate the social function on the same day so that people from the other villages may attend each other’s social.
On New Years Eve the bon fire was repeated, again by collecting wood from each household. The social event however was much different. Every New Years Eve and Day we hired an orchestra to play for us. On New Years Eve, we merely danced around the bon fire which was again in front of the church. This was the only place large enough for everybody to get together. On New Years Day, however, we dressed in costumes, some scary and some serious. The village men were organized into a unit (semi-military), had a captain in charge and a second in command. Sometimes, if there were disagreements among them, there may be two units.
Around noon on New Years day all participants (scary, serious, and otherwise) would go from house to house, dance in front of the house, have the head of the house lead a dance, and, of course, the people of the household would furnish drinks and appetizers. The drinks consisted primarily of wine and liquor. We had no beer. The appetizers were primarily Loukantsee (very tasty sausages made from pigs casings stuffed with pork meat, pras [leek], and heavy seasoning). To defray some of their cost they also assessed each household a fee.
Socializing continued to past midnight and by this time there were very few participants that were not inebriated.
The villages and towns were rather close together, so it would have been difficult to attend each others functions, if they were scheduled the same day. New Year’s celebrations therefore were scheduled at different times. Some villages instead of celebrating on the calendar New Year (Gregorian Calendar), they scheduled their New Year’s celebration on the Feast of St. John the Baptist (Voditsee or Theophany/Epiphany), January 6. This also coincided with Christmas under the Julian Calendar.
The main meat of the day was barbecued lamb or lamb stew with green onions and spinach and, of course, no main meal is without pita (zelnik).
The biggest holiday of the year is Easter. Again we begin with a forty day fast before Easter and church services almost daily. During Holy Week we had services, Divine Liturgy in the morning and Vespers in the evening. On Good Friday in addition to the church services, many villagers went to the market in the town of Mavrovo or the city of Kostour. The trip was necessary in order to buy groceries for the holiday of the year and to buy gifts for the household but primarily for the children. This was the first and only time we received any kind of gifts. The children’s gifts consisted of different kinds of noise makers, whistles, cheap harmonicas, wooden flutes, maybe a knife, and sometimes a nice hat.
Late afternoon on Good Friday children and adults participated in singing the three lamentations for Christ’s burial.
At midnight on Holy Saturday we had the resurrection service. The most common singing during this service were the stichera (verses) of Christ’s resurrection. “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and on those in the tombs bestowing life.” After the service the priest gave us the blessing and a colored hard boiled egg. The greeting after the resurrection service is “Christ is risen” and the reply is “Indeed He is risen”. We would then crack the colored hard boiled eggs against each other and whose ever egg was cracked he forfeited the egg to the winner. Many smart boys or young men, such as my cousin Kouzo Shimagoff, would make an egg from wood and you couldn’t tell the difference that the egg was not real. They ended up collecting all the eggs until they were discovered. As mentioned earlier, Easter is celebrated three days with big dinners (usually lamb) and, of course, we hired orchestras to complete the remaining two days.
On Pentecost (fifty days after Easter) every household that had deceased members would prepare desserts to take to church and then to the cemetery in remembrance of their departed. People, especially children, would go from grave to grave to express their condolences and were given a piece or two of the prepared dessert. The dessert consisted of blaga (a pastry of thin stretched dough made into braided like strings, baked in the oven, and after baking was covered with syrup made from sugar), mlechnik (a pastry made with eggs and milk, poured into a tray that was lined with a thin stretched dough, similar to the way we make kish and pies but without a meat product), maznik (layers of thin stretched dough, buttered, and sparsely spread with feta cheese between each layer), and many others.
In Chereshnitsa and in other villages we do not celebrate birthdays. We celebrate the birthday or nameday of our patron saint. Every person when baptized is named after a saint and the celebration is on the birthday of that saint. For instance, I celebrate my nameday on the birthday of my saint, St. Panteleimon, which falls on July 27. My father’s nameday was on July 20, the birthday of St. Elias. All those named Nick celebrate their nameday on St. Nicholas Day, December 6, etc. By the way on St. Nicholas Day which falls during the Christmas fast, our main meal was fish with browned onions (stewlike) prepared the day before and left to solidify like jello and, of course, posna pita (zelnik).
Baptism usually takes place forty days after birth and in some cases earlier than that. From the time of the birth until the child is baptized nobody knows the name of that child, not even the parents, except the Godparents. On the day of baptism the parents are not
in church so all the children stand at the entrance of the church or near an exit but close enough to hear the announcement of the name by the Godparent during the baptism. The minute the God-parent announces the name to the priest to legally name and baptize the child, all the children standing at the exits run to the home of the parents to announce the name of their child. For this effort the children would be awarded with a gift of money. The first one, of course, receives more than the others. This process is called “mouzjdjeh” (a news announcement), announcing the child’s name to the parents.
As in many other remote villages and prior to the advent of modern medicine, Chereshnitcheni practiced some of the medical remedies passed on to them from generation to generation.
This remedy was used to relieve soreness or inflammation of the body. It is a very simple remedy. For this remedy an empty glass of water was needed. It was held upside down then a lit match or candle was held in the glass for a little while. As quickly as possible the flame was withdrawn from the glass and immediately the glass was placed (still upside down) on the person’s body, usually on the back. The vacuum that was created by the flame forced the skin into the glass. The glass could be slid along the body, or additional glasses were used, depending on the symptoms.
To reduce the fever, an ill person is given a charcoal tea to drink. This is another simple remedy. Red hot burning coals (voglenia) are poured in the tea. After they fizzled out, the coals (voglenia) are strained from the tea. The remaining liquid then is given to the sick person.
Slices of raw cold potatoes, about one-quarter inch thick, are placed on the forehead and held there by tying them with large handkerchief or any long narrow cloth. This remedy is supposed to relieve headaches.
To reduce a swelling, primarily on a person’s head, a large coin is pressed and tied on the bump to prevent it from getting any larger. This remedy was used more on children than on adults.
Red Pepper (Paprika)
To stop a wound from bleeding (usually a head wound), red pepper (paprika) was put on the wound. Again this was especially done to small children.
Leather Belt Scrapings
Another way to stop bleeding was to take scrapings from a leather belt and apply to the wound.
This was used to cure a cough. Belioch is a white-eyed wild flower. The white petals of the white wild flower are boiled in water and the liquid is given to the ill person.
All of these remedies, although I saw them performed, I could not to a certainty say that they all worked and cured or relieved the symptoms of the illness that they were intended to heal.