Orthodox Christmas in Montenegro
As we drive down the street, fireworks burst above the illuminated Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ. Sparkles of light brighten up the night sky. Families walk towards the church, carrying branches. We pull over and park on the side of the road.
As I step out into the cool winter air, I shiver inside my jacket. There is no snow, but it is as cold as it will get here in Podgorica, Montenegro. It is the Orthodox Christmas, the 7th of January.
We start walking down the road to see what is happening. Everyone who goes by seems to be carrying an oak limb and we wonder why. My dad pulls one from a pile lying on the ground and we take it along with us. It rattles in the wind as we walk along.
As we get closer, we see a giant bonfire flaring up from the yard of the church. The smell of smoke hangs in the air, and the smog catches in my throat. We go through the gate and join the crowd. A river of people flows towards the fire, everyone tossing their branch onto it. We follow and as we approach the conflagration, it gets hotter and hotter. I unzip my jacket as the heat becomes more annoying than comforting against the winter cold. When we reach the flames, we toss our branch in with the others, adding to the inferno.
The fire roars up above us, and the crackles inside it throw sparks up into the air. I push my way from the fire’s heat back into the cool night air, welcoming the difference. A shower of sparks rain from the sky and I brush them off my jacket.
I look towards the church and see a large screen set up. A play is being performed at the entrance to the church, and a video feed plays onto the screens for everyone to see. Music also pours from speakers. A young boy in traditional dress is singing, wailing in a language I don’t understand. After the song finishes, a Montenegrin version of Jingle Bells starts and I smile. The lyrics don’t quite match the rhythm or rhyme of the English version. A row of plastic chairs seat several old men with long black beards. A group of chosen children sit on the steps up in the front.
We go into the smaller, adjacent chapel and walk around. The low light adds a mysterious atmosphere to the place. Paintings of different Saints line the walls. Someone walks to one of the icons, crosses herself, and kisses the glass in front of the painting. As we leave, the light catches the reflection of one of the paintings, and I see lip marks covering the glass. Passing in front of incense burning I get a whiff of ancient perfume. It leaves a tang and queer taste in the back of my throat as I step back into the cool night.
We make our way back to our car. We get a last look at the cathedral illuminated by the fire, and a final barrage of fireworks is our farewell as we head back home late in the night.
Anders Bruihler is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program
Photo courtesy and copyright Anders Bruihler.
All video credits go to my mom, Ruth Anne Rasmusson.