SHTF Christmas… What was It Like…?
Just this last week I completed an interview with Daisy from the Organic Prepper Blog. It was on a timely subject with Christmas being here, so thought I’d share it here as well.
Have you ever thought about what an SHTF Christmas would be like after an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it event? I’m not talking about a minor issue that just affects a few people, but a full-on disaster that changes everything.
Today, we have a first-hand look at what a post-collapse holiday is really like. I interviewed my friend Selco, of SHTF School, and his answers are really food for thought. I have learned more about long-term survival from Selco than probably anybody else and have based a lot of my own plans on things I’ve learned from him. For most of us who write about preparedness, it’s research and theory. For Selco, it’s real life.
This interview is in his own words.
I read over the answers to his questions at least a dozen times and thought about how fortunate we are. Even our most difficult times here, in our society, would have been the height of luxury during the war in Bosnia.
But will we always be this lucky?
First, give us a little bit of background. What was going on? Please describe the circumstances in Bosnia during this time.
War in the Balkan region (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia…) started during the 1991 and went on until 2000 (if you include war at Kosovo and NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999), but historians mainly narrow it to a period of 1991-1995 if you do not count Kosovo war and NATO bombing. In some literature, you’ll find the name “Yugoslav Wars“ which is same (all above-mentioned Balkan countries used to be states in Federation of Yugoslavia (Jugoslavija or roughly translated to English it is “country of south Slavs“).
…Yugoslavia (as a socialistic-communist country) founded after WW2 in 1945, and stop to exist in 1991 with the start of the wars. Shortly prior the war socialistic system (communistic) fell apart as a part of bigger events (fall of Soviet Union, fall of Berlin wall…) and democracy came, together with democracy, rivalry between states that wanted to stay in the Yugoslavian union and states who wanted independence raised sharply, that resulted in riots and small and isolated fights, leading to full use of Yugoslavian army (JNA) which was 4th largest military force in Europe in that time.
Wars had all features: Independence fights, aggression between states, civil war, genocide, re-alignments, or switching of allegiances as the operational situational changed, backing up from foreign forces (Such as US and NATO)… through periods of it you could say that it was an ethnic war or even religious in parts, but in the essence it was war for territory and resources between factions who were in power, based on personal gain of wealth and influence only.
I went as a civilian and later as a soldier through the whole period of wars, I was in different regions during that period. Harder period of those wars (because of numerous reasons) happened in Bosnia, and one of the main “feature“ of that period were “sieges“ of a couple of cities that lasted from few months to a couple of years.
I found myself in one of those sieged cities. I lived like that for a year and I survived.
Every day, for almost a year, for me was a constant fight for survival, I was constantly either trying to defend myself or to look for resources, for usable water, food or simply firewood. We scavenged through the destroyed city for usable items because everything was falling apart and we have to “reinvent“ things in order to survive, like the best way to stay warm, to stay clean and safe or simply to make home medicine for diarrhea or high blood pressure.
When Christmas rolled around, it was obviously very different than any other holiday people had ever experienced. Can you tell us the usual Christmas traditions in Bosnia BEFORE this all happened?
As said, I grew up in Yugoslavia, which was socialistic and communistic country. One of the thing in that country and system was that religion was not forbidden, but it was strongly, let’s say “advised“ that religion is way down in the list of life priorities.
On the other side, it was strongly “advised“ that we put aside our differences (we had many different ethnic groups in Yugoslavia, and a couple of main religions) in order to build one “ethnicity“ – Yugoslavian. As the result of that all different religions kinda know each other very well, and people from different religions celebrated more or less or know all religions.
Christmas for most of the folks was very much connected to the New year holiday (again something that is connected to the official socialistic system) and it was just like everywhere in the world I guess, holiday of presents and gathering of family. For example, going on midnight mass was matter of being together with family and friends, and meeting each other-not so much matter of religion not too many “real“ religious people).
I was a teenager more or less, but my memories of that holiday prior the war are: peace, good food, family gathering and presents, and of course Santa. It was huge and “mandatory“ thing that kids gonna get big presents then.
I’m sure that then, everything was very different. What were some of the changes? How did you celebrate?
Everything was different when SHTF, yes. Living was hard, comfort was gone and everything was stripped“\ down to the bare survival. Lot of small commodities that we usually do not think about (we take it for granted) was simply gone because of obvious reasons (the whole system was out) but also because simply life becomes full of hard duties, to finish simple tasks and obtain resources becomes hard, dangerous and time-consuming.
Celebrations become rare and not so happy and big (not even near) but in the same time they become more precious and needed too.
Get-togethers (family) become even more important because people lean much more on each other between group or family, simply because they needed much more support – psychological. too – than in normal times.
A lot of religious people lost their faith when they saw family members dying. On the other side lot of people found God in that desperate times – as an only hope.
Being together with family members for small “time off“ become almost like small rituals, like a ritual of finding inner strength and support in order to push more through hard times.
Yes, religion was a big part of it, but it was not only about religion, it was about finding strength in you and people close to you – family, and sharing it between each other.
Without access to storebought presents, what kinds of gifts did people give?
It could be divided in two groups:
Things that help you in the new reality:
All kind of things that helped you to solve all kind of problems that SHTF brought. For example, people who were skilled in handcrafting used to made cigar holders out of wood and bullets casing, it was very popular for smokers and the reason for that was because cigarettes were rare, and people usually smoked bad tobacco rolled in bad paper and good cigar holder (as a combination of cigar holder and pipe) was essential for smoking that stuff.
It was small thing but really important if you were a smoker in that time.
Another example was small handmade stove. It was made from thin metal, and in some cases it was portable. Point was that kind of stove needed really small amount of wood ( fuel for fire was important and hard and dangerous to get in urban settings) to make it really red hot and cook something quickly or boil water.
So cool and usable kind of inventions.
Things that connect you to normal
In this other group were all kind of things that connect you to the normal (prior SHTF) life. It was not only cool and nice to have those presents, but also it was important psychologically to taste something that actually makes you feel normal again.
For example after living for months through collapse, one simple bottle of beer could make you feel human again, and it would somehow gave you strength.
Sweets (Candy), beer, spice, or even few songs that someone play on guitar for you were precious.
What did you do for the children at Christmas to make it special?
Kids were somewhat “forgotten“ in the SHTF times. Quite simply not many people paid attention to them other then keeping them safe from dangers.
People did not have enough time to take care about their needs.
During the holidays people usually wanted to give some kind of joy for them, or to “keep the spirit“ of holiday alive for them.
In majority of cases it was very poor imitation of holidays in normal times, for example I remember that making pancakes (jam was made out of tomato juice and very expensive sugar) was considered alone like a holiday. Special food, or attempts to make some special food, for kids, were usual holiday presents for kids in that time. Today that kind of food would look ridiculous and not even edible probably, but in that time it was precious.
What did families serve for Christmas dinner in Bosnia during this time?
Traditionally for Christmas and New Year holidays in this region here, we ate huge amounts of meat, and drink wine, so people during the collapse tried to keep that tradition.
Again it was mostly unsuccessful in terms of normal, but in that time having hot stew kind of meal from MRE was considered holiday dinner, and actually it was very very tasty and a “holiday spirit“ dinner considering what we usually ate.
Wine was out of the option most of the time but hard alcohol was there.
In general, were people happy and joyous to find a chance to celebrate, or was it grim and depressing because it was so different?
General picture looked like this: we were cold, more or less hungry, dirty, tired and unsure in future, but yes we appreciate feeling of getting together for holiday and we were trying to keep “spirit alive“.
Truth is that sometimes it worked, sometimes not.
But generally yes, psychologically it was important, it had its place, it had a sense to get together, take some time to try to feel normal again, to remember that we are still humans.
Definitely those moments were not bright and happy, like in normal times but on the other hand those moments were appreciated and were much more real than in peacetime.
Do you have any holiday stories you can share from this time? (Doesn’t matter if they are happy stories or sad – I’d really like to show the reality of post-collapse holidays.)
It is big thing (I guess just like everywhere) to leave presents under the tree for Christmas and New Year here.
It is custom here to buy big bags (kids motifs of cartoons, fairy tales and similar) and fill it with favourite snacks, sweets and toys of each kid and leave that bags under the tree (we did not had custom of socks and similar, we had those bags, to literally translate the name would be “kid package“).
Of course, it was out of the question to have the bags and sweets and toys in the middle of SHTF.
My uncle in that time came into an opportunity to make a deal with local small “warlord“ or gang leader if you like.
The deal was about giving some weapon for food (the guy had a connection with outside world) and my uncle “made a condition“ on the whole deal with the term that he will give a weapon for food but the additional deal was that he also need 3 “kids packages.”
In that time and particular moment, taking into consideration with what kind of people he was making a deal it was like he was asking a serial killer, to his face, to sing a gentle lullaby, and my uncle said that those guys simply could not believe what he asked.
Everybody was looking for or offering weapon, drugs, violent contract deals or even prostitutes from those people but he was looking for “kids packages“.
But they indulge him, and my uncle said that he thought they indulged him simply out of the fun, and out of the fact that it is gonna be a very interesting urban legend that someone could obtain kids packages in that time.
The guy even wrote down the list of sweets and toys that my uncle asked from him.
I think those sweets and toys when they came were one of the most unreal items in that time and place, but they were worth the effort.
It really gives you something to think about.
What a reality check. And how fortunate we are. Our version of “things were really tight this Christmas” is laughable in comparison to what is described above. I can’t thank Selco enough for sharing his stories with us.
I’ve often recommended prepping with things like cake mix, birthday candles, extra Christmas cards, and items that support your family traditions, and after reading what Selco had to say, I believe it’s even more important. You can’t overstate the psychological aspect of being able to provide that sense of normalcy.
More information about Selco
In his online works, he gives an inside view of the reality of survival under the harshest conditions. He reviews what works and what doesn’t, tells you the hard lessons he learned, and shares how he prepares today.
He never stopped learning about survival and preparedness since the war. Regardless what happens, chances are you will never experience extreme situations like Selco did. But you have the chance to learn from him and how he faced death for months.
Real survival is not romantic or idealistic. It is brutal, hard and unfair. Let Selco take you into that world.
Read more of Selco’s articles here: https://shtfschool.com/blog/
And take advantage of a deep and profound insight into his knowledge and advice by signing up for the outstanding and unrivaled online course. More details here: https://shtfschool.com/survival-boot-camp/
Daisy is a coffee-swigging, gun-toting, homeschooling blogger who writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, PreppersDailyNews.com
She is the best-selling author of 4 books and lives in the mountains of Virginia with her two daughters and an ever-growing menarie.
You can find Daisy on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter
Wow, what a read. Great interview from you Daisy and stories from you Selco . I have followed Selco and the course since I signed up in the beginning and it was really interesting to hear an expanded story from what should usually be ‘celebration time’. Must’ve been damn hard. Makes us appreciate what we have, and we have plenty in plentiful times…while it lasts. I promise to enjoy it.
Thank you Daisy. I first started reading Selco’s blogs about six years ago. Back then I was astounded at the depth and heart-breaking sincerity of his experiences. Now, at Christmas 2017, I am even more profoundly smitten by this treasure of life-experiences we call “Selco” and his “SHTF” storehouse of brutal realities. And like the Christmas “bags” he describes, his realities are perhaps the wrapping around a fragile gem of the barest but richest light of the human heart – a light manifested only through the fire of prolonged and unspeakable suffering. Thank you Selco. Thank you for such a beautiful gift that shines so brightly.
Thank you for your very informative articles. Have a Merry Christmas! Cap
A good insight into the world’s most famous holiday during wartime/SHTF. It sounds like it was a sad time, but also that people appreciated that they were together and alive… which is indeed the most important thing.
Even though I’m a Christian, I don’t “do Christmas” like the world does. My early Christmases were “family getting together to argue”. I was adopted into a dysfunctional home, and spent most of my Christmases “outside” so as to avoid the “family drama” that holidays always brought. I still do that today… I recede from the shopping madness, the guilt-gifting madness, the endless social events that everyone wants you to attend madness…. I eschew it all and go someplace peaceful and quiet to reflect on my year past. I find it much more productive and spiritual.
This year I’m going to the range on Christmas to zero a pistol and try some rifles at 300 yards to see what they do. There’s sure to be very few, if any, people at the range. It will be a good time to prepare one aspect of “prepping”, and to ponder the past year between rounds as well. In the end, it will be a day well spent… regardless of what day the calendar says it is. And for me, that’s the key… it’s not what day the calendar says it is… it’s just another day. Another day of being alive and, compared to many in the world, blessed.
Fantastic as usual Selco. My Christmas will be absent presents as my family is older and we are less in need of things at this point. We moved out to the country and are somewhat isolated which is interesting as winter settles in and it is harder to get out on the roads. Learning to make our own fun, cooking traditional foods and getting out the snow shoes and tramping our own trail. I watched a movie last night, called The Survivalist. I’m not sure how realistic it is, but it made me think of you.
When I was young (7 or so) and lived in a third world country…we shined our shoes and put them at the foot of our bed and hoped to get “something” for Christmas. We usually did get ONE gift and were happy about it. Our first tree had candles and balloons as decorations and it was beautiful! Now unfortunately, the children and us grownups are spoiled and don’t really appreciate what we have. It’s time to rethink our living……. Merry Christmas!
My dear S.
Your description of the ordeal you went through is si ilar to what some of my parishoners, or their families went through. With that in mind i send you the Blessings of the Child born in a manger, and pray that the sadness that was dealt on you, doesnt haunt you sorely. Know that i read your blog regularly and your fellow countrymen here pray for those who perished and those who survived.
Happy Holidays to All,
It’s interesting to see a pre-1991 Jugoslavijan (Yugoslavian) Socialistic State sponsored Christmas Card for children with Santa Claus about to go down a chimney, nicely illustrated until … you noticed the Red Star on Santa’s cap.
While my parents experience during WWII in Yugoslavia were very grim I was fortunate to be born in a different time and place. Yugoslavia then was overrun by different armies, first the Italians, then the Germans, then the Russians and briefly the Germans again. After the experience with the Russians the Germans were better as they fed the children a few more potatoes a month if only for the reason they were the future generation. The older generation weren’t teachable. Then the Bleiberg massacres and more came.
Sorry to read about others experiences. There’s no guarantee I will not experience the same.
Christmas & New Year from my childhood came after three days of the household traditionally baking cakes and for New Year Eve my mother would float walnut half shells each with a lit candle in a large bowl of water and tell us kids our fortunes while she told stories along the lines of Brothers Grimm’s Fairy Tales. (Although I doubt they wrote the one about the Wolf & the Bear pointing up the difference between Fascist and Socialism with H*lter saying he was G*d and the St*lin saying there was no G*d.. Polenta gives me Trans-generational Trauma as stories of the war were usually told with food servings. Go figure.)
All Saints Day (Halloween) is another event where the family gathers from various places and walk together up the hill to place a candle on the family burial plot. It’s very beautiful with the sky lit rose color from all the candles as the family is reacquainted while honoring their ancestors.
It’s unfortunate the people of the Balkans are falsely portrayed through the distorted lens of the media reporting the 91′-95′ war. From my personal experience they are overall good honest people. Selco is an example of this.
“War Cake, A Witness in the Siege of Sarajevo” by Linda Flynn Beekman is a book about making do with what you have.
Thanks Selco for mentioning Slovenia during the “S*rbian War of Aggression” as the full story is rarely told where I am.
(Digression: Selco, I’m curious, were the Marian apparitions of ‘Our Lady of Medjugorje’ ever viewed as an apprehension of events to occur?
I heard that the government agents who went there to inspect never denied the apparition as they may or not have seen ‘something’).
Thanks John for this detailed comment!
Yes, actually now you reminded me on that things like red star and Christmases… funny how some things are forgotten, actually whole Santa Claus thing here was different. Santa here was “Djed Mraz” which roughly translated to English means “Granpa Frost” or similar.
Actually if you research bit deeper “Djed Mraz” is Slavic (pagan) God of winter (Ded Morozoko in Russian) and sometimes not so friendly character.
In “atheist” Yugoslavia he was “pushed” more to deliver presents for New Year, not so much for Christmas.
After decades of that, still it is more or less custom here for New Year to be big holiday here, and still it is “Djed Mraz”.
I am glad you had luck with being born in different time and place, because I strongly believe that history is simply big wheel, and things keep repeating.
One of my “elders” was In Bleiburg, and he survived “Way of the cross”, he did not talk about that for decades, part because it was very dangerous to talk about it, but also because he did not want to talk. Also I had older members of the family on the other side of story in WW2 so let s say I had a chance to listen stories from all sides, and all that stories say same-suffering and surviving.
And then I went trough very similar things, and saw it from different sides.
Media is here to do the business, according to that we (in Balkans) will be portrayed sometimes like savages, other time like freedom fighters and new democracy or similar… i think we are more or less ordinary people who have funny luck to be in the middle of carnage every couple of decades.
Yes, we can be let s say “rough around edges”.
Yes, I remember early days of Marian apparitions in Medjugorje, it was big thing in that time, and I remember that government tried to simply shut down that, but it grows way to big and way to fast so they concluded it is best to simply leave it alone.
Still it was closely monitored by government, let s say it was good if you are Italian tourist and to be interested in that, but to be Yugoslavian and to go there could be tricky.
Yes, lot of legends were told about that, but i do not remember it as a apprehension of events to occur.
Thank you for your reply and information.
Per Wikipedia “Djed Mraz” (Grandpa Frost/Saint Nichols/Santa Claus) now resides on Mt. Triglav. Good to know for anyone still writing Santa in Norway.
My Mother only briefly mentioned she lost a child at Bleiberg. My father had bayonet wounds from WWII. When asked, he didn’t want to talk about it. The older generation’s attitude was that if anyone repeatedly talked about their experiences it never happened.
Slavic “luck” may be partly geographic. During Romans times, any invading army had to pass through the Alpine valleys to get to Rome. Then it was caught in the middle of the Great Schism between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. And so forth and on. But what annoys me (and I’ll try to be brief, sorry) is the European attitude bought over ‘here’ that anyone to the east of you is an animal, same for north to south. It’s the European NW attitude that prevails, i.e. Newton/Goethe, Edison/Tesla.
Again, Thanks for your blog as it will be very helpful if, and when a Marian apparition warning of coming war descends in my backyard. More likely when, as history repeats itself.
Have a very Good New Year
Marry Christmas and happy new year to all,
My trick to getting the holiday to a positive state is to have everyone do something together instead of just gathering. Everyone sets the table if we eat and everyone goes to the park and I try to have everyone learn a new skill or cross train. I learned three new water gathering ways yesterday with my son during our Saturday father son trip. Exploration and learning defeat just celebrating and it prepares you more.