How Serbs celebrate Christmas

Blessed Nativity of the Lord, Christ is Born

Thursday 4th of January 2018

cover image

The Serbian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas with its believers on 7th January. The biggest religious holiday is a period of love, socializing with loved ones, rich dining and giving. The day when Jesus Christ was born is celebrated for three days, and is marked by a series of customs. It is celebrated in the family and in the church. A ceremonial wardrobe is worn those days. On the first day, people should not go anywhere because the next two days of Christmas are intended for visiting socializing with friends and relatives. The Christmas period is the happiest time for the Serbs.

Bozicna cesnica (the ceremonial, round loaf of bread) is a cake made from flour, water and fat, without yeast. The oldest woman in the house makes it in the early morning, before sunrise. A dukat or a coin is inserted into the dough. Some housewives put a part of the badnjak, a branch of cornel, bean and other things that symbolize health, wealth and happiness into the dough. A housewife breaks the cesnica into as many pieces as there are people in the house, and the one who finds a coin in his part will be happy all year long.

Pecenica (pork bake) is obligatory on the table. Usually it is pork and less often young lamb. According to old customs, it is taken into the house on Christmas Eve and left on the eastern side until the next day. The host cuts the meat - left shoulder first, then the head and then part of the ribs. It is believed that meat of feathered animals should not be eaten on Christmas because they symbolize the regression. When all members of the family gather around the table, the head of the house - the host lights the candle, burns incense, reads the prayer and then the lunch starts.

Polozajnik (a special guest) is the first person to enter the house on Christmas. He crosses the doorstep with right foot and greets the people with "Christ is born!" (Hristos se rodi!) and they respond with "Indeed, He is born!" (Vaistinu se rodi!). Everyone greets each other with these words throughout Christmas. Polozajnik used to go first to the stove and put a branch in the fire, saying, "How many sparks so much money, how many sparks so much happiness and joy" (Koliko varnica toliko parica, koliko varnica toliko srece i veselja) and listed all that is needed to multiply in the house. As a rule, the polozajnik is a young man, a family member or a friend of the house. Special gifts are being prepared for him because he symbolizes the three sages who followed the star from the East when Jesus was born.