Christmas in Sarajevo
My two friends Erik and D’juan and I arrived in Sarajevo, 6am on Christmas Eve to gift Bosnia with our loud American presence.
Christmas in Sarajevo is more of a secular multicultural event than my friends and I had ever seen before. Midnight mass was the opposite of a “silent night.” Instead, it was observed as a lower scale version of New Year’s with firecrackers being set off to the background of clanging church bells.
We chat with two local girls Amina and Sara. Amina is Muslim and Sara is Catholic but both celebrate each other’s holidays from watching people set off firecrackers and releasing balloons to exchanging traditional holiday cookies. Muslims, Amina said, had a different kind of holiday cookie than Catholics or Christians. She and her friends were excited about their pending exchange this year. But the firecrackers being set off is not a tradition–it is rather just a local habit that occurs from time to time, depending on how festive some people are.
Instead of there being your typical run-of-the-mill Christmas market like in other European cities, Sarajevo had a more modest “Holiday Market” that sold plastic toys to fake holiday ferns. After midnight, my friends and I heard the upbeat melodies of local ex-Yugoslav pop-folk. A huge white tent was packed to capacity and security guards were only letting in the same number of people who exited. While we waited for our turn and my friends were introduced to such classics by Halid Beslic, Ekaterina Velika, and other household names that may trigger yugo-nostalgia, they remarked that Sarajevo, and Bosnia was incomparable to any other European city or country they had ever been to. Figuring out how to enter this dome of a tent presented a challenge. We did not know where the entrance began and thought of climbing over some gates and sneaking ourselves in. One of the security guards looked at us inquisitively for a second and in a serious tone, warned us, “There”, pointing to the bushes we stepped over, “are mines.” We took him for his word at first but then he flashed a grin and started laughing. We had just encountered our first example of dark Bosnian humor.
Earlier that day, we began our day walking around in search of burek and cevapcici. For dinner, we went to a steakhouse and while D’juan ate steak, Erik and I nursed some of the local slivovitz or plum brandy. I believe our server was also the owner as she was very attentive and hinted to us that the restaurant had a trip-advisor page. This had happened during lunch at a “sausage restaurant” or “cevabnidza” when the owner took a picture of us and said we could find our pictures on the Facebook page, dependent on whether we “liked” his establishment or not. I’ve never before seen such a coincidental but clever use of social media before.
We followed this with souvenier shopping. We felt like we had potentially gotten ourselves into something akin to that Tarantino scene from Pulp Fiction when Bruce Willis and Ving Rhames’s characters enter a gun store for safety only to come across two twisted neo-nazis, when we saw several prominently displayed swastikas. There was also a commemorative wine bottle with Hitler on it. The owner said that Hitler was a “good man” who tried to make the “world calm” and also a very good businessman. We exchanged glances and I tried to whisper the word “Tarantino” but was not heard. When D’juan entered the shop, unaware of what had just been said, there was a pregnant pause for we did not know whether to politely leave or stay to look at the treasure trove of old Yugoslav currency that attracted D’juan. It was a hard call as it was hard to discern whether to take this owner seriously or not, especially when he said, “Mamma Mia!” and “Heil Hitler!”
There was a wine bottle with a wine label of Hitler’s picture and text “Fuhrerwein Schwarertaffel.” Erik surmised that this bottle may be a gag, or “maybe Nazis were just that cheesy.”
We will find out soon.