Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Pre-Christmas Fires Indicate Survival of Ancient Slavic Rites in Macedonia

Ancient custom of lighting fires around the Winter Solstice, originally in honor of the Slavic sky god Svarog, is alive and well in Macedonia, as presented by this great pictorial [es] by Robert Atanasovski and Gorgi Licovski, published by Miami Herald.

Most of the participants consider it part of the Orthodox Christian Tradition, even though some Orthodox Christian priests regularly denounce this practice as "pagan" (in a very pejorative sense), reminding that it's not related to church cannons. Some, but not all, as the celebrants also invite orthodox priests to bless the fire. Such priests charge various kinds of material compensation for these acts.

In the past, the solstice and Christmas coincided. However as Earth plows through the universe and also turns, the imperfect Roman calendar required readjustment, done in XVI century by Pope Gregory. In Macedonia, most Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas according to the old calendar, so today it's removed from the actual solstice (December 21) by about two weeks. 

In Skopje, these fires are built within neighborhoods, gathering residents of a single alley or of an apartment complex. Neighbors prepare the wood and chip in to buy food and alcohol. Often the chief person of the celebration is deemed godfather or godmother of the feast, an annual honor that includes preparation/bringing of some special type of food, like the customary pie. 

In order to win favor with the voters, authorities keep a blind eye on the ecological aspects of these fires (normally it is not allowed to build fires within urban areas) and even use public funds to supplement much of the fuel.