The Christmas season is a much anticipated period of the year all around the world. It is an important time and means many different things to everyone. It is a time to reconnect with family and loved ones, a time of giving and receiving gifts and love, a time to relax and take a break. Although much of the Christian world celebrates Christmas on 25th December, in Orthodox Serbia church bells toll across the country marking the beginning of the three-day festival on 7th January. However, preparations for Christmas in Serbia start long before 7th January. Many Orthodox Christians begin fasting 40 days before Christmas.
The Christmas celebration in Serbia blends Christian symbols and pagan traditions. It involves a lot of logs, straw, sparks, clucking – and hearty food. Continue reading and find out which are other Serbian traditions.
For many Serbs, the real Christmas celebration starts on Christmas Eve, 6th January. Christmas Eve practically combines Christmas Eve and Christmas.
On Christmas Eve (called Badnji dan during the day and Badnje vece after sunset), families gather and many people fast and don’t eat food that comes from animals. It is the last day of the Christmas fast. Christmas is a very religious holiday and most people go to the Christmas Services. There are a lot of old Serbian traditions that associate with the countryside, which have now lost their meaning because more people live in towns and cities. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the father of the family used to go to the forest to cut a young oak called the Badnjak (Christmas Eve tree) but today people just buy one. The oak tree is a crucial component of a proper Serbian Christmas and on the morning of Christmas Eve.
In the evening, when it gets dark, the host brings pecenica (something like roast pork), Badnjak, and straw into the house. Badnjak is placed on the hearth, but since there is no hearth nowadays, it is placed next to a stove. In order to make the family home resemble the stable where Jesus was born, the men scatter straw across the floor, while mothers and children follow them, making clucking sounds.
The Badnjak is also burned in a huge fire at midnight in front of churches nationwide. Everyone brings an oak branch with them and throws it on the fire, making as many sparks fly as possible, as the sparks are a sign of good luck in the year ahead.
Christmas Day in Serbia
We celebrate this great Christian holiday in the family circle. It is important to celebrate in the soul, in prayer, and in communion with the family. Christmas in Serbia has numerous folk customs. That gives the celebration of the feast of Christ’s birth a special charm and makes it a favorite. We have a whole bunch of weird and wonderful traditions of our own, some drawing from pre-Christian times.
Instead of greeting each other with the usual hello or good day, Serbs use the traditional festive greeting of Christ is born, happy Christmas for all three days of Christmas. The appropriate response is Truly, he is born.
The first person to enter a house on Christmas Day is a polozajnik, who brings luck to the house and family. The polozajnik is often pre-arranged. On entering the home, then he lights up Badnjak and makes sparks fly. The more sparks from the fire, the richer, healthier, and happier the family will be. After that, the polozajnik has breakfast with family. Then, when he rises to leave, the family bestows presents on him, in order to show how special he is to them. However, if the family doesn’t have a good year, they don’t ask the same person back!
Cesnica followed by festive lunch
Early in the morning on Christmas, the housewife kneads the dough from which she bakes a cake called Cesnica. A gold, silver, or ordinary coin is placed in it, pricked with a Christmas tree twig from above, and this Cesnica has the role of a Christmas cake. He who gets a part in which the coin is, according to popular belief, will be happy all year round.
On this day, as a rule, Serbs make the most beautiful and delicious lunch. As a warm starter, there is usually sarma. As the main course, there are pork roast, roasted potatoes, coleslaw, and other seasonal salads. For dessert, there are different tasty cakes and sweet pastries.
There are two beliefs about what the family should do after lunch. Some believe that every task a person begins on Christmas Day will be blessed, so they start the job that they intend to occupy them throughout the year. Others, meanwhile, believe that a person will continue doing whatever they do on Christmas throughout the year. Most Serbs believe it is best to spend the day doing things they enjoy the most with the people they love the most.
More than Belgrade team wishes a Merry Christmas to all our Orthodox readers. We wish you pleasant holidays spent in the circle of your loved ones in joy and peace. Also, let this be a year full of love and happiness. Celebrate Christmas as it should be, in the family circle, so that this Christmas brings you only the best. Peace of God! Christ is born!