Friday, January 06, 2006

Serbian Orthodox Christmas

When I was walking down to the green market in my neighborhood this week, I noticed people standing by piles of branches with dried-up oak leaves. It appeared like they were selling them! Upon closer inspection, I saw that the oak branches were bundled with some straw and sometimes a small packet of grain or field corn. As the Serbian Orthodox Christmas was coming up, I assumed that this was part of its Christmas tradition. Note: As the Serbian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, Christmas falls on January 7.

I described the bundle to a Serbian friend and asked her what it was. She said it was badnjak. In villages, she explained, the husband would go out to the woods on Christmas Eve (January 6) and find the most beautiful young oak tree/branch he could find and cut it down. This is placed inside the door. In homes where there are fireplaces, the badnjak is placed in the fire for good luck. In the city, the small bundles I saw would more likely be placed in a prominent location such as the middle of the table.

On Christmas Eve, a meal doesn't include any animal (or dairy) products. Fish is allowed though. Some Orthodox Serbs have been doing this kind of fasting for a period prior to Christmas - some as long as 4o days. Left-over food from this Christmas Eve meal is traditionally left on the table, covered with a tablecloth. Spirits of the dead are said to come and also enjoy this feast. On Christmas Day, the meal is large and more Serb-like - with meat being a feature, such as roasted pork. A special round bread cesnica with decorative braiding is also typical. A coin is sometimes placed in the bread, a sign of good fortune for the recipient.

Another Serbian friend taught me the Christmas greeting, which is much more in-tuned to the true meaning of Christmas: Hristos se rodi" (Christ is born!) and as greeting in reply: "Vaistinu se rodi" (Really born!).

Indeed, Christ is born!

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