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Riza Gashi, left, and his cousin Aarian Gashi sell balls that are used to decorate trees Kosovars put up on New Year’s Eve. The trees are part of the country’s holiday celebration, but aren’t Christmas trees.
Riza Gashi, left, and his cousin Aarian Gashi sell balls that are used to decorate trees Kosovars put up on New Year’s Eve. The trees are part of the country’s holiday celebration, but aren’t Christmas trees. (David Josar / S&S)
Riza Gashi, left, and his cousin Aarian Gashi sell balls that are used to decorate trees Kosovars put up on New Year’s Eve. The trees are part of the country’s holiday celebration, but aren’t Christmas trees.
Riza Gashi, left, and his cousin Aarian Gashi sell balls that are used to decorate trees Kosovars put up on New Year’s Eve. The trees are part of the country’s holiday celebration, but aren’t Christmas trees. (David Josar / S&S)
The tree decorations in Kosovo are different than in America. Here, two trees being sold for a New Year’s Eve celebration sport a Santa’s hat and a witch’s mask.
The tree decorations in Kosovo are different than in America. Here, two trees being sold for a New Year’s Eve celebration sport a Santa’s hat and a witch’s mask. (David Josar / S&S)

UROSOVEC, Kosovo — Evergreen trees, Santa Clauses and flashing lights come late in Kosovo.

The holiday frenzy begins after Dec. 25 as merchants erected small stands along the sidewalks and streets. Kosovars put up “Christmas trees,” garland, tinsel, colored balls and even tiny, plastic Santa Clauses religiously — only they are for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

“It’s always been like this as long as I could remember,” said Kole Gashi, 28, who was selling artificial Christmas trees in red and white for 7 euros each along Urosovec’s main street. “This is our biggest holiday.

“Nearly every house that can afford a tree buys one. It’s your decoration and it’s a symbol of the good things that can come and the good things that have happened.”

Traditions, said 45-year-old Hakim Shari, are a part of Kosovo, although they may seem odd to outsiders.

“Just because we are a little different, don’t think we are weird,” said Shari, a pharmacist.

On Tuesday, most businesses closed early or simply did not open.

Shari said he and his family began their three-day celebration on Tuesday by eating together, and then stay up late talking, drinking and playing games until midnight.

They set off some small firecrackers and bottle rockets at midnight. Wednesday and Thursday were to be spent visiting family and friends.

Although Shari said his family planned to mark the New Year at midnight with fireworks, that is not the Kosovo tradition.

“Guns shot in the air is what we will do,” said Josip Gashi, no relationship to tree salesman Kole Gashi.

“I will be shooting, if I can find an AK-47.”

The tradition is ironic. Historically, guns were as common as bread in a Kosovar home, but are now illegal, and KFOR troops routinely search for and seize weapons — and then destroy them.

Still, on Tuesday, Josip Gashi predicted that as midnight neared, the skies across Kosovo would erupt in gunfire. “It’s a joyous sound,” he said.

Gashi was right about one thing: New Year’s did start with a bang as gunfire could be heard all around town Wednesday morning for at least a hour.

But the tradition can be trouble for residents and Kosovo hospitals. Dr. Tschur Kourp, who works at the main Urosovec hospital, said last year he treated two people who were hit by bullets. “What goes up must come down,” he said.

He predicted more of the same for this year, and said his small hospital would probably see at least one person hit by a stray bullet.

“Let’s just hope we see no customers,” he said.

While Kosovars have adopted some of the traditions of Christmas, there are definite differences.

While most Americans go for a symmetrical look to their Christmas trees, Kosovar decorating is haphazard and in some ways mysterious.

Many Kosovars inflate balloons that they tape to their trees despite the fact the balloons regularly burst.

And traditional cut evergreens are rarely seen because it is illegal to cut them down and there are no tree farms or truckers who will bring cut trees in from other countries.

“It is our celebration, and it isn’t like an American Christmas, but we love it,” said Aarian Gashi, Josip’s brother.

“This is our tradition.”

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