23rd of December, travelling to Florina to attend the custom of fire. I had to be there by night when the fire is lit.
I reached Florina by afternoon and the first thing I wanted to see was the place where they light the fires. I was really curious to check that place.
The journey was long and the place was really important for me since it is always one of the elements of my composition. A very interesting content positioned in an equally interesting scenery.
By reaching the place I was disappointed though. Urban environment, cars, rubbish bins. I sat at a local cafe to drink a shot of tsipouro and think what I would do. Already, brass bands from Greece but also from neighbouring Skopje have arrived. One of the brass bands entered the cafe playing the music of Bregovic as loud as possible. I started enjoying the whole atmosphere. Tsipouro and the warm wood-burning stove definitely helped.
I got into my car and made a ride to the villages around Florina in case I found any other fire in a better scenery.
On my way to Nymfeo, I saw men preparing wood for a big fire. I thought that if I would not find anything more interesting by night, I would return to this place. I headed north towards the villages that are close to the borders with Skopje. After passing the village of Achlada, I considered that my whole ride was in vain. I returned but suddenly, passing by the village square, I observed a filed with piled wood and a hutch next to that. I liked that place and I asked some kids that were by the pile of wood about their preparations. They told me that they would light the fire the same night. I returned to my car to get my camera. I had just found my place.
Children gathered wood and straw balls, they would like to make the fire as big as possible. The biggest, of course, is always the one in the town of Florina, but them, they want at least to have a bigger fire than the one of the neighbouring village of Yiourouki.
The fire at Yiourouki would be lit first so I went along with the kids into the darkness towards Yiourouki. It was not a big distance but I reacted to every strange noise I heard and the kids started teasing me and telling me stories about wolves coming to the village at nights.
Some locals have gathered In a house which is by the place of the fire. I heard music coming from a radio and I smelled roasted meat.
I approached the house to give my wishes, they invited me in, poured me some wine and start chatting. After introducing myself, they brought me to a room under the main house which had been used as a garage. It was so warm and cosy and there was a table full of food and drinks. The owner of the house wanted to show me his new boiler that burned coil. But unfortunately for him, I have no idea about boilers!
We got out of the house because the fire started burning. Everybody exchanged wishes, kissed each other and then entered the house to continue the celebrations. I would like to go back to Achlada village to check the fire of that village also. I looked for the kids because their stories about wolves had somehow an impact on me (!) and I did not want to go back alone.
By midnight, the fire was lit. It was so much bigger than the previous one. We had to keep distance because it burned our faces. Everybody was so happy. People in groups sat around the fire, drunk and ate until the fire stopped burning.
It was very late already. I was from the last ones to leave the place. I headed towards my car, an old man approached me and asked me how did I end up to his village. After explaining to him, he asked me if I have somewhere to sleep and I told him that I would sleep in the car. He proposed to me to go to his house to sleep. I followed him. After reaching his house, he prepared the sofa for me to sleep. Next morning, I and his family ate breakfast altogether, telling stories about the place and the customs. Sometimes, I noticed that at some point they spoke a language which was neither greek nor Slavic.
I entered the car and headed towards other destinations with customs of 12-day celebrations of Christmas/New Year, passing from Doirani and Kerkini lakes that were on my way.