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Feature 27 Dec 16

Crafty Ideas for Holidays Around the Region

These days, Christmas markets with wooden stalls selling the usual fare of hot drinks, gifts, cards, clothes and souvenirs can be found across the region.

BIRN Team
BIRN
Tirana, Sarajevo, Sofia, Zagreb, Skopje, Podgorica, Belgrade
Christmas market in Zagreb. Photo: Miroslav Vajdic/Flickr

Traditionally, each capital in the Balkans sets up a Christmas market in early to mid-December. Lasting well into the mid-January, the market traders there offer a wide range of homemade crafts, contributing to the festive holiday atmosphere. If you find yourself at some of the places listed below, BIRN suggests what and where to buy.

ALBANIA

Tirana. Photo: Ivana Dervishi/BIRN

Ndrek Ndoci and Fatmira Lala are good friends whose passion for traditional handmade crafts has united them as partners in business.

Fatmira is a master knitter with 15 years of producing clothes and decoration from wool, who often puts patriotic symbols on them. On the other hand, Ndrek’s wife and his daughters are experts on hand looms and he sells the tablecloths, linen, scarfs and many other artisan-style items that they create.

They have known each other through the craft-fair scene and four years ago hired one of the booths offered by Tirana municipality every December in public places to create a holiday market.

This year, visitors can find them selling their traditional handmade crafts at a booth at Mother Teresa Square, where many people buy their Christmas and New Year Eve gifts.

Handcrafts in Albania are a growing business and Gentian Minga, editor-in-chief of Living magazine told BIRN that people had started to integrate craft fairs into their daily lives.

“Handicrafts were almost inexistent in Albania some years ago because people were struggling to survive and no one had the time, reason or wish to think about it. But recently there’s been a boom of the art-craft philosophy,” Minga said.

He re-discovered his own passion for crafts five years ago as a hobby but has started to turn it into a business. “Friends loved my crafts, so I started to give them away as gifts. Friends of my friends loved them, so I had to sell them my crafts. Now, five years on, I have started to sel, not much, but the interest in crafts is growing fast,” he said.

Gentian work on a wide range of crafts, such as home accessories, bijoux items and cards, using recyclable materials, mainly paper, wood, and glass, and he uses Facebook to promote and sell his work.

BOSNIA

Bazerdzan opened this year in the Old Town of Sarajevo, Bascarsija, with the motto “For Sarajevo With Love”. They stock handmade goods by local designers and manufacturers, including jewels, artwork, and fashion.

Real leather satchels, knitted hats, elaborately decorated scarves and colourful T-shirts are only a few of the Bosnian-made handicrafts on sale.

The Sarajevo Holiday Market at Hastahana runs until January 14th from 10am to 11pm. Local handicrafts and holiday gifts are on offer here, alongside cakes, artwork, decorated kitchen items, bags, candles and other traditional holiday-market fare. 

BULGARIA

Thanks to the boom in hipster culture, handmade arts and crafts and bio products are “the new black” in the capital, Sofia, where small vintage shops pop up at every corner and fashion a new image for this eclectic, post-Socialist city.

Artisan jewellery, souvenirs and food are not only to be found in the specialized boutiques of downtown Sofia. Themed fairs, or bazaars, have become popular all over the country, especially during the Christmas celebrations.

This year, more and more Bulgarians are buying presents for loved ones, not from one of the numerous shopping malls but from small craftsmen and women.

Between December 1 and 6, the imposing, Communist-era National Palace of Culture in Sofia drew thousands of visitors with the scent of clove and cinnamon and hundreds of stands selling toys, jewellery, paintings, clothes, cosmetics and Christmas decorations, produced exclusively by local artists.

Launched in 2015 by the alternative rock singer Vanya Shtereva, the Hand Made Fest has become the biggest craft and art fair in Bulgaria.

But it is not the only one. Sofia’s thriving hipster co-working spaces, including Betahaus and Soho, have also hosted artisan bazaars for local designers. Such initiatives also provide an opportunity for social enterprises to offer products to a broader audience and for charities to raise funds.

In 2016, the German Christmas Market in Sofia designated a whole alley for an initiative called “Colourful Bulgaria”, promoting production in support of social enterprises and under-privileged groups.

This year, the handmade mania has spread all over the country, and visitors to cities such as Plovdiv, Varna, Burgas and Veliko Tarnovo and Ruse can sip a glass of spicy warm wine while buying unique gifts from specialized markets.

While the markets in Sofia, Plovdiv and Burgas end right just Christmas, the bazaars in Ruse, Veliko Tarnovo and Varna will offer a welcoming atmosphere to visitors till the end of the year.

CROATIA

Zagreb. Photo: Anadolu

At stands at the Christmas Zagreb Advent, tasty gingerbread hearts will be on sale in various sizes. Gingerbread hearts are a traditional souvenir often used as decorations on Christmas trees. Souvenirs made from stone and wood will aso be on sale in the market stalls as well as hand-made jewellery. 

MACEDONIA

Artisans in Macedonia over the New Year will be offering handcrafts at several venues in the capital, Skopje, starting from the city centre, the old Turkish Bazaar also known as the Carsija district and in several of the more modern shopping malls and cafés.

Small design studios and individual artists offer a range of handcrafted greeting cards and decorations for the holidays, as well as traditional woollen gloves, shawls and socks for keeping warm.

Watch out for handcrafted jewellery using the traditional filigree metalwork technique, which involves delicately connecting tiny beads or twisted threads of gold or silver.

Designs with traditional star and butterfly motifs as well as more contemporary styles can be found.

MONTENEGRO

“Buy Local” has been a trend for some years in Montenegro and a new online initiative calls on Montenegrins to buy handmade instead of mass-produced items as gifts this Christmas.

The initiative launched in November invited people to share a post reading: “It would be good if we decided to purchase New Year gifts from small producers, shops with artifacts, independent booksellers, friends who make unique things and from people around us who resist the negative sides of globalization.

“If we can ensure that our money reaches ordinary people who really need it rather than large international companies (which pay too little to their workers) and to support small producers, our and their New Year will be happier,” the Facebook post adds.

Meanwile, several towns in Montenegro have organized charity bazaars offering local products, such as food, wine, olive oil, jewelry and decorations.

The New Year Grand Bazaar feraturing local handmade products opened on December 19 in Podgorica under the auspices of the capital city’s tourism organisation.

SERBIA

Belgrade. Photo: Beta

If you seek local, handmade, organic and original products for presents, Belgrade won’t disappoint you this year. You will be able to purchase them at three big markets.

Although the custom in Serbia is to present gifts on New Year’s Eve, the streets are already filled with little stands designed to catch the eyes of passers-by.

For handmade presents, the first address to check out is the city’s main pedestrian zone, Knez Mihailova str. For the sixth year in a row, the City of Belgrade is organizing an “Open heart market” there, which is already on and lasts until February 1st.

Apart from the miscellaneous artistic and entertaining events on offer, the initiative gives visitors an opportunity to spend some money on local products. The offer is wide. You can find local food and drinks, colourful sweets, handmade cosmetics, jewelry and traditional Serbian clothes, as well as other souvenirs.

If you prefer Christmas shopping in more peaceful atmosphere, and feel attracted to hand-made clothes, jewelry, books, house décor and local cosmetics, try Cumicevo Sokace, the design district, where you can find original presents for friends, family and children.

Clothes-designer shops, a bookshop with original souvenirs and a shop with handmade cosmetics and soaps are all there.

Looking for a vinyl? In Njegoseva 53 str you can find one at Triumvirate CD, a shop where they sell records that recall the good old times, which might be a top present for a musical Yugo-nostalgic.

Recently, Serbian art lovers and artists have started selling their treasures via Facebook. You can search and find Mesec I Zec for jewelry, Thetka fashion for original bags, handmade and hand-painted T- shirts, Snowys Art Handmade for beautiful home decorations, a high-quality coffee supplier Java Coffee Serbia, and Skrabac, for beautiful children socks and clothes [they have also adult versions for those who never grow up].

For those who are always late, or who celebrate Christmas on the Orthodox calendar, Mixer House is preparing a Mixer Design Market on December 25th, with a start at noon. The organizers promise great fun, good food and lots of things to see and buy. Some of the designers present who will be selling their works are: Inana i Ma Ja, IRIS dizajn, Jane Doe Vintage Shop, Jane Doe's Craftroom, Kaleidoskop Ceca, Kerefeke, Kubik, Lavirint art, LOM design, Lookie nakit/ Belgrade graffiti, Maki Made It, MAMAMAYA, Masne Tied Up.

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