Serbia is a beautiful destination that never ceases to fascinate its visitors. One of its most fascinating (and often confusing for foreigners) customs is Christmas. Orthodox Christmas, unlike the Western world’s version, is celebrated on the 7th of January each year.
But why don’t the Serbs have Christmas Eve when the rest of the Christian world does? A Day Translations team member shares some insight! From a unique Christmas tree and Christmas dinner, here’s what you need to know about the Serbian Christmas Season!
Although the Julian calendar celebrates Christmas on December 25, this date is 13 days out of sync with the commonly used Gregorian calendar that is still used by the Serbian Orthodox Church. This also means that the Serbian New Year is celebrated on the 13th of January, instead of the 1st!
Preparing For a Serbian Orthodox Christmas
In Serbia, the days leading up to Christmas Eve are pretty jolly. Three weeks prior to Christmas Eve, every Sunday, family members take turns at a game of being tied up and ransoming themselves.
Gift-giving on Christmas Eve is not a Serbian tradition, but this is where the three Sundays before Christmas come into play. These three holidays are called Detinjci, Materice, and Oci. Children give their parents gifts on Detinjci, married women give their children gifts on Materice, and married men give their children gifts on Oci.
The proper preparations begin on Christmas Eve, though, called Badnji Dan in Serbia. The day is named after badnjak, an oak branch which is the local variant of the Christmas tree. The badnjak is taken inside and set alight at dusk on Christmas Eve, but many families avoid the dangers of indoor fires and set the tree alight outside instead.
The largest display can be found at St. Sava Temple in Belgrade. Many families come here to celebrate the spirit of Christmas before heading to church for the midnight service. Those who choose not to attend the service can often be found enjoying some mulled wine or rakija with friends.
Let The Feast Begin
The first person that visits a family’s house in Serbia is also known as the first-footer, or polaženik. This person has a significant role in predicting the events of the new year, which is why it must be carefully arranged. Many children assume this role in Serbian families.
January 7 marks the end of the 40-day long Nativity fast, during which Serbs abstain from eating dairy products and meat. This means that the Orthodox Christmas lunch is usually a lavish event!
Pigs have always been a big deal in Serbia. So it makes sense that the traditional centerpiece of the Christmas menu is a pork roast. Another popular traditional Christmas Eve dish is Cesnia. The Serbs only bake this bread during this time of the year. Although you’ll find it in various versions throughout the country, every different variant of this bread shares a common theme. There is always a coin inside the loaf! And whoever finds it in their slice is blessed for the year ahead.
Serbia: The Most Superb Place to Celebrate an Orthodox Christmas!
There’s a contagious energy in the air in Serbia between 31st December and 14 January every year. During this time, the rest of the world starts forgetting what they had for Christmas Eve. However, Serbia comes alive with fireworks, festivities, and never-ending celebrations! If you’re looking for a festive way to prolong your Christmas season, Serbia might be the answer you’ve been looking for!