Today in Macedonia Orthodox Christians celebrate the informal start of the New Year by the Julian calendar. Before the pandemic, the date of January 13 is observed in many ways and through more rituals across the country.
From pagan custom to modern ways of celebrating. We will give the emphasis to the “Vevcani Carnival” which according to its peculiarities stands out in the world thanks to the long tradition, its secrecy, but most of all thanks to the uniqueness of the Carnival masks.
This year, the Vevcani Carnival is put on hold due to the pandemic of Covid-19, but until last year we can proudly confirm that it was admired by thousands of foreign visitors.
In the carnival are included traditional ritual dances and modern masks in honour to the religious holiday of St. Basil the Great – protector of the people of Vevcani, the “Vasilicari” and the municipality of Vevcani.
This Carnival is over 1,400 years old. An interesting link between paganism and the modern life that retains its spirit, tradition and its recognizable location.
The venue of the event is the whole municipality of Vevcani. During this event it transforms into a huge open-air theatre where every single house and every single street turns into a special stage where masked actors are part of interesting scenes.
There are three traditional masks: The very known Bride and Groom, The Musicians and The Fool One. The other masks are usually smaller or professional carnival groups are used to ridicule public figures.
During this day, the locals gather in the home, where they celebrate this holiday with red wine and a good song.
We talked to Nikolina Bogoeska Kukoska, owner of the famous ethno house “Kutmicevica” which is located on a panoramic location with a beautiful view of the whole Vevcani.
Nikolina has participated at the Vevcani Carnival since she was a little girl. Trought this pleasant interview she revealed details about the life of Vevcani during the carnival days.
Wonder Where Travel Team: Hello Nikolina. For a start we want to ask you a question which, I believe would be very interesting: How was the Vevcani Carnival last year? Did you have many tourists and visitors during the Carnival?
Nikolina Bogoeska Kukoska: In 2020, as in previous years, a few days before the carnival (13th and 14th), were organized exhibitions, concerts, promotions that attracted huge number of visitors, among which were guests and a many team of journalists from Macedonia and from the neighbouring countries.
I can say that Kutmicevica, as well as the other tourist facilities here in Vevcani, is participating in the big show these days. In the past years we have organised the start of the Orthodox New Year with a gala dinner, live music and a visiting the traditional masks of “Vasilichari”.
Carnival days (13/14), are represented with pagan customs for centuries old as the carnival itself. For instance, the traditional masks, such as above mentioned “The groom and the Bride”, living in both upper and lower Vevcani`s neighbourhoods; “zurli” and drums played by local musicians and enthusiasts; a large number of a group of masks are part of the main parade on January 13th.
Vasilicarite, together with the people from every household in Vevcani, visit the famous Vevcani Springs on the night of the 14th, and the water from there is used to make the pie with the coin that is made in every house in Vevcani.
In the morning of Vasilica (14th), Vasilicarite, together with the musical instruments ‘drums’ and ‘zurli’, begin by visiting the houses of all those who bear the name Vasil and celebrate that day, to end with a central gathering and the traditional burning of the masks – an act that symbolizes casting out and destroying the evil spirits.
In these days when we celebrate Vasilica, the local tradition is in the first place in all segments, also in the food and drink – Kutmicevica and other restaurants follow that example of the households and the centuries-old customs and in this festive period, the specialties such as home-made sausages are served (we have them fresh at any time), pivtija, the Vevcaniski goulash and the home-made pies such as kashanik (gjomleze), zolenik, etc. An unwritten rule is the serving of hot brandy and homemade red wine, which every house in the village as well as Kutmicevica prepares for the needs of its guests from the local wine plantations.
Wonder Where Travel Team: Where do tourists usually come from and what are they most impressed with, what do tourists look for in authentic food?
Nikolina Bogoeska Kukoska: Throughout the year, especially spring-summer and in this winter period, we have regular guests from almost all over the world, but mostly from neighboring countries such as Albania and Serbia, the countries of the former Yugoslavia, primarily Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro, Turkey and here we would mention the Dutch and the Belgians where the interest in visiting Vevcani and Kutmicevica is growing year by year.
Vevcani as a tourist place is developing significantly faster in the recent years, certainly with the hope that this rate will be even higher in the near future because the unused facilities and potentials of this place are really huge.
The location under the slopes of Jablanica and the specificity and richness of this mountain offers excellent conditions for hiking, cycling and even skiing. In this direction, the mountain lodge was recently renovated at 1200 meters above sea level, bicycles are rented in the very center of the municipality, and all mountain and picnic places are marked with appropriate signposts.
Vevcani springs are a natural monument through which Vevcani has become recognizable in the past, as well as the numerous churches and old architectural masterpieces that speak of the great masters of Vevcani and the whole culture of this place from its very beginning until today.
As for Kutmicevica, what attracts the most foreign tourists, but also our local residents and what we are famous for is the ethno ambience of the restaurant, the remarkable view of the Ohrid-Struga region to the top of Pelister and the most important of all is the traditional food that we prepare, mostly with home-grown products.
The restaurant itself is located in a restored building built more than 200 years ago, with architecture and designs which are specific for the region of Vevcani and which we try to preserve and show through the ambiance of the restaurant and the two apartments located within the same building.
Apart from the location and the ambiance of the restaurant, we put a lot of effort and commitment to Macedonian traditional cuisine, especially the local Vevcani cuisine. We make sure that our menu is always upgraded, in order to offer the best of the traditional food in Vevcani, those things that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers prepared and that are characteristic of this region such as home-made sausages, Vevcani goulash and pans, freshly prepared bread and homemade pies.
The location of Vevcani itself offers an opportunity for excellent agriculture and cultivation of organic fruits and vegetables, huge wine plantations, use of products from our local farmers in the preparation of our authentic specialties.
Because of this way of working by using our local products we were recognized as an excellent candidate and we are on the verge of becoming one of the few restaurants that is part of the organization, working on the principe of slow food in Macedonia.
In that way, we not only offer something different from the everyday, modern cuisine, but we also see it as a way to permanently preserve the Vevcani customs, the culture and the recipes that are passed down from generation to generation.