The majority of Macedonia’s festivals are centered around religious occasions or on a number of crucial events in the country’s long struggle for independence first from the Ottoman regime to Yugoslavia. Two of the most important celebrations are Easter and Independence Day.
As with the rest of Europe, New Year's Day and Eve is celebrated from late December 31 through January 1, with memories of the outgoing year and hopes for the upcoming twelve months shared. Traditional fireworks at midnight see residents pouring onto the streets with parties in bars, clubs, hotels, and restaurants lively until early morning.
Post-New Year winter visitors to Macedonia can enjoy two Christmases, as Orthodox Christmas kicks off on January 5 with children going from house to house caroling and everyone gathering around a bonfire reminiscing about the past year. Christmas Eve is welcomed on January 6 with a traditional vegetarian family supper and the arrival of the Yule Log. Houses are decorated with greenery, and straw is strewn on floors in memory of the stable. On Christmas morning, everyone heads to church, followed by home visits and a sumptuous dinner. Local celebrations continue for three more days.
Held at the end of March, beginning of April on the Tuesday following Ash Wednesday, Strumica’s carnival is centuries old and focused on local girls getting engaged. The festival begins with a colorful procession and parade, followed with masked men visiting the homes of potential fiances begging for their hand in marriage. It’s all great fun, with street parties and large amounts of food and drink.
Easter is the most important festival in Macedonia, held in April about two weeks after Western Holy Week. The traditional dyed and painted Easter Eggs are prepared well in advance with the first placed next to the family icon. Good Friday sees church attendance and vegetarian food, with the traditional Easter Day meal prepared on Great Saturday. On Easter morning after church, the decorated eggs are given to family and friends, and celebrations continue all day.
Labour Day in Macedonia is a national holiday, celebrated on May 1 to honor the social and economic achievements of the workers known worldwide as International Workers’ Day. Macedonians enjoy their day off with trips to the countryside, the lakes or city parks for picnics, relaxation and general merriment with family and friends.
Saints Cyril and Methodius Day
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the lives of Macedonia’s two major saints are celebrated on May 24 with the creation of the Slavic Glagolitic alphabet and the region’s conversion to Christianity. Church services give thanks and commemorate their contribution with parades and family gatherings.
Skopje Summer Festival
Skopje’s annual cornucopia of concerts, folk music, traditional events, and museum openings run from June 21 for four or five weeks in venues across the city, which is a feast of indoor and outdoor theatre and musical delights. The entertainment is mostly free and attracts artists and performers from around the world.
Ilinden – Saint Ilija’s Day
This national holiday is a dual celebration on August 2, commemorating two major events during Macedonia’s struggle for independence. The Ilinden uprising against the Ottoman rulers in 1903 and the first meeting of the fledgling Assembly in 1944 which laid down the basics of the modern republic are remembered with street parties, parades of horsemen, visits to holy monasteries, family festivities, and a great deal of eating and drinking. The religious significance of the day goes back to the end of the pagan era when the god Perun was replaced by the Christian Prophet Elijah.
Galicnik Summer Festival
The highlight of this early July event in the village of Galicnik is the traditional Wedding Festival, during which one lucky couple gets to marry in a ceremony unique to the region. The marriage rites last for two full days, with the traditional Tescoto men’s dance performed to symbolize centuries of suffering endured by the Macedonian people.
Ohrid Summer Festival
From mid-July to late August, the historic city of Ohrid celebrates its Summer Festival with theater, concerts and outdoor street performances. Many of the events are held in the city’s ancient buildings or around historic monuments. The festival is run by Macedonia’s President.
One of the most significant secular events in Macedonia is Independence Day, a national holiday celebrated on September 8 in remembrance of the great day of the referendum in 1991 which resulted in the country becoming a sovereign parliamentary democracy. Expect parades, fireworks, street celebrations, and patriotism toward the relatively new country.
Day of the Macedonian Revolutionary Struggle
The somewhat communistic title of this crucial festival on October 23 doesn’t hide the fervor of the national holiday, commemorating the first serious, revolutionary attempt to overthrow the Ottoman rulers and take back the country. The Revolutionary Organization began in Salonica in 1893 with just six firebrand members, who later set the population’s hearts ablaze with freedom, resulting in the Macedonia we know today.