The celebration of the family Patron Saint's Day (Slava or Krsna Slava) is a uniquely Serbian custom. All members of the same family or community observe together a day set aside to honor their saint or protector. The Saint remains unchanged from the father to the son as a tradition of inheritance. This celebration originated in pre-Christian times, when each family had its particular family God. Later, when the Serbs became Christians, they transferred this observance to the Christian Saints, selecting some Saint with special meaning to the family or the Saint whose cele- bration day was nearest the day when the family accepted Christianity. After coming to the Balkan peninsula, the life of the Serbian people changed. As nomadic people they became farmers, tied to one place and their land. Family life became very important and, as they settled, they accepted the higher, more civilized ideas or religion developed in Greek Christianity. The bloodless sacrifices of the church were then adopted by Serbian families. St. Sava in his reformatory work, definitely abolished blood sacrifices and established the Christian symbols or Krsna Slava, which are the candle (voshtanica), wheat (koljivo) and bread (kolac). Since every part or Krsna Slava ritual describes the life, passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, bread and wheat were naturally the first elements of the bloodless sacrifices. Wheat (panagija) was established as the most holy and symbolic secret of nativity life. Everything is born from seed. So, in the nativity, the mystical commandment of God is fulfilled. The single wheat grain obtained its name, panagija (All Holy Mother, giver of birth) from the Greek Panagion. Also, wheat was the main source of existence. Even today, the Krsna Slava ritual still involves a series of beautiful symbols in the blessing of the wheat and the breaking of the bread.
In Europe and America, there are many different ways of celebrating the Krsna Slava, depending on the particular region, but the basic idea is the same everywhere: worship of the Patron Saint with a bloodless sacrifice. The most common way of celebrating is in this manner: the host goes to the church to attend the holy liturgy. He takes to the church a Patron's Saint Cake (Slavski Kolac), a bowl or cooked wheat sweetened with honey or sugar (koljivo) and the "Book in Memoriam" (citulja) from which, during the Holy Liturgy, the priest reads the names of the host's deceased relatives. The Priest also cuts and blesses the Patron's Saint Cake, according to a prescribed rite. Koljivo is prepared only in commemoration of patron saints who died. The Holy angels and Saint Elijah did not pass through death. Therefore, koljivo is not prepared for them.
Meanwhile, at home, the table is prepared for the celebration. Returning from church, the host places the cake and wheat on the table and lights a candle which burns all day.Later, relatives and friends gather at the home of the celebrant to share in the festivities and partake of the celebration dinner. The host (always the male head or the household) prays to God and his Patron Saint and then serves his guests. (The host is never seated during the dinner.) Every guest receives a small portion of the Patron's Saint Cake as well as of the wheat. In many regions, it is the custom to invite the priest to perform the Cutting of the Patron Saint Cake as well as the wheat.
The Christmas celebration begins on Christmas Eve, when traditional yule log (badnjak) is brought to the family hearth. This log is cut by the male head of the household and the older son, while the table is being set for the Christmas Eve Fast supper (Posna Veccera). The log is cut into three pieces, representing the Holy Trinity, and each piece is brought into the house by the father. A son, or some other member of the Family receives each piece and places it on the fire. As this is done, the son and the father exchange a greeting: "Good evening and happy Christmas Eve" (Dobro vece i sretno badnje vece). Also, they throw a handful of wheat to each other as a wish for good health and prosperity for the family. While the log is being placed on the fire, the mother and the grandmother gather the children together and, from the outside, enter into the room where the supper is to be served. Each person carries a bundle of straw and the mother leads the children in spreading around the room the straw on the floor. The mother makes the sound of a hen and the children make the sound of the baby chick following behind the mother as a symbol of unity in the family.
Then the fasting supper is served on the same table that the Christmas candle is burning. The fasting supper is composed of strict fasting recipes, such as cooked vegetables, nuts and dried fruits. After supper the father and the grandfather throw walnuts into the four corners or the room, symbolizing the sign or the cross. The Christmas candle is then lit, and everyone sings a Christmas hymn. Very early Christmas day, people attend the first morning church service. After the family returns from church, the first guest arrives. This is usually a man who is a dear friend of the family, and he is especially honored during the celebration. When he first arrives he goes to see the yule log fire. He is then met by the host,who kisses him and gives him this special greeting: "CHRIST IS BORN" (Hristos se rodi). The guest replies: "INDEED, HE IS BORN" (Voistinu Se Rodi). These greetings are exchanged throughout the three days or Christmas. After the exchange or the greetings, the guest shakes the burning yule log and when the sparks fly up, he recites his best wishes for the family. He usually does this in rhyme, mentioning the Special desires of the family.
At the start of tile Christmas dinner, which usually consists of roast suckling pig and other festive dishes, the Christmas Cake (Chesnica) is brought to the table. The host says a prayer and everyone else sings a Christmas hymn. The Christmas Cake can be prepared as a nut pastry or as a simple bread. Either way, a silver coin is baked in the dough, and the person receiving the piece of Christmas Cake containing the coin is supposed to receive good luck during the coming year. After the Christmas Cake is served, the very festive meal begins and the celebration continues for three days.
This is in memory of the day Jesus was baptized. In some places, there is a procession from the church to the nearest body of water. The water is blessed by the priest and across shaped of ice is thrown into the water. The water is taken home in small containers as a symbol of purity and protection from illness. It is kept near the family Icon.
These days commemorate the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, after performing the miracle or the resurrection of Lazarus. In memory of this, on Saturday afternoon there is a procession of children carrying banners, crosses and little bells. A special hymn is sung. Green branches of a willow are placed on table in the church and remain there until the next day, Palm Sunday. Willow branches were used because palms were not available in Serbia when this custom began. The priest blesses the branches and distributes them to the congregation, along with the blessed bread (nafora), on Palm Sunday. The willow is taken home and placed belhind the family Icon.
This is one of the most important holidays celebrated. There is a great preparation for this day, and activities the week before follow a schedule made by the housewife. On Thursday before Easter eggs may be dyed. All colors are used, but some eggs must be dyed red to symbolize the coming happiness in the resurrection. In some homes, beautiful designs are scraped on the service of a dyed egg with a sharp instrument. This unusual technique is the Serbian style of decorating eggs. The first egg to be dyed is put aside and called "Protector of the House" (Cuvarkuca). It is placed beside the family Icon and saved for St. George's Day.
Some baking is done on Thursday, so that nothing but only essential duties are performed on GOOD FRIDAY. On Good Friday, the family observes a strict fast and attends church, where they kiss the grave of Christ. (Plastanica). Even fish and oils are omitted from the menu on Good Friday and only nuts, fruits and vegetables are eaten.
On Saturday, the house and the food for the coming day are prepared. There are traditional dishes for the Easter meal. A typical menu includes lamb, lamb soup, sarma (stuffed cabbage), salad and delicious cakes. Members of the family, and each guest who comes to the house, are offered eggs on Easter morning, with the greeting "Christ is risen" (Hristos Voskrese) and the response is always "Indeed he is risen" (Yoistinu Voskrese). Eggs are taped, end to end, and if your egg is broken by another person's, you must give it to him.
Holy Trinity Day is celebrated the l5th day after Easter, in memory or the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost, which appeared to the disciples and enabled them to teach the gospel to all people of different languages. The day of this appearance was the first day the Christian congregation was organized, and it was also the day the first harvest or the year was celebrated. In in memory or this, the custom or celebrating the 'first harvest" is preserved in the Orthodox church today. After the Holy Services thanksgiving prayers are given by the priest and the church is strewn with field grass. During the prayers the people kneel and each one shapes the field grass into three wreaths, representing the holy trinity. These wreaths are then taken home and placed beside the family Icon.
One of the most popular and most beloved saints in the Orthodox Calendar is St. Nicholas, who was born toward the end of the third century. He is patron of the mariners, merchants, travellers, as well as of many countries. Among the Serbian people he is widely honored as a family patron.
Serbs who celebrate St. Nicholas as their Slava,being mindful that the holiday occurs in the midst of the Christmas-Advent Fast, observe the holiday in the traditional religious manner and, prepare only fast meals on this day. This is as it should be, because the Slava is primarily religious observance, honoring the patron saint of the home, saint is a best honored if the celebrants properly observe teachings and ordinances of the Holy Church as the saint himself did.
His fame has come down through the centuries and legends have grown around his life. He was known for his kindness and many acts or charity, which he preferred to do anonymously. He loved children and the children revered him-thus the connection with children to this day.
Throughout his life he retained the bright and guileless manners of his early years, and showed himself the special protector of the innocent and the wronged. He died in 342.
After a child is born,someone is sent to the priest for a name for the newly born child. A name is selected by the priest and is carried by the child until he or she is christened. Gifts of food are brought to the family to aid the mother until after she has rested.
This celebration, in memory of the execution of St. George, achieved special significance when the Serbs were under the influence and the yoke of the Turks. In the spring, the Serbs would gather in the woods where the foliage hid them. There they planned insurrection which eventually freed them. Today, this is celebrated by an outing, or simply preparing a large, low container of greens and roses. The egg which was set aside at Easter is placed in the center of this floral arrangement. Fresh water is poured over the flowers, and if it is warm enough outdoor container is placed in the garden. The children wash their faces in this fresh water and wishes for good health are extended by their parents and grandparents.
Before all important church days, on which prayers (parastos) are said for the deceased, a candle is burned and graves are visited and decorated with flowers.
The four most important fasting periods are: before Christmas and Easter, and St. Peter and St. Mary Holy Days (Wed. and Fri. are also fasting days throughout the year). Fasting before taking Holy Communion is compulsory and is usually four days in duration for the children and one to six weeks for adults. The morning or the communion nothing, not even water, is to be taken. The specially chosen foods for fasting are for the purpose of cleansing the body and the soul. Fasting included the omission from the diet of all those things which are derived from animals and fowl. On fasting days dishes are prepared with oil or vegetable oil, instead of butter or lard.
There are various customs connected with the wedding,and they vary from region to region. We can only include the most common in this brief survey. For example, on the eve of the wedding, the bride's party gathers to make corsages of rosemary, a traditional herb. These are sold to the guest and the money is given to the bride and groom. This custom is well known in the Western part of the world. In fact, in America red roses are used instead of the herb. On the wedding day the bride is taken from her home by the "bride's guard", accompanied by a band or orchestra. They drink a toast to the bride and groom and the couple are allowed to see each other briefly, as the toast is drunk. They all leave for the church and the band plays a traditional song on the way. In the church the wedding party marches to the altar, accompanied by choir music, and there they go through a brief betrothal ceremony in which the bride and groom are given their rings. The wedding party then marshes to the center of the church, where there is a table bearing the Bible, a cross, a cup or wine and two crowns. The priest gives the instructive sermon, asking the participants specific questions pertaining to their free wills. Then, the priest ties the right hands or the participants together, symbolizing the one-ness or the marriage. Next, the crowns are placed on their heads, representing the coronation of glory with which the husband and wife hope to be blessed with in their future lives. After this, the formula of the wedding is pronounced as the priest says, three times, "Oh Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor." There is then a reading or the gospel and the bride and groom are given the cup of blessed wine symbolizing the mutual life in which they will accept the good with the bad, the bitter with the sweet, together in blessed love and understanding. Finally, the wedding party, preceded by the priest, walks three times around the table, signifying the eternal path of marriage. The newlyweds are congratulated by friends and, on the way out or the church, the best man (kum) throws small change in the couple's path, to wish them good luck and prosperity. Then, the wedding party goes to the bride's home, or some other suitable place to celebrate. There the guests dance the kolo, toast the bride and groom, and (instead of presents) give money to the honored couple. This is done to give the couple good start (financially) on their new life. Later on the bride is taken to the home or the groom to meet the small children, whom she kisses three times. This symbolizes the bride's desire for children of her own. The bride's mother-in-law' gives her wine and bread to symbolize the wish for harmony and happiness between them.
A large candle and christening clothes are provided by the godfather (kum). The godfather presents a silver or gold piece to the child, as its first possession. The priest performs the christening at the family's home or in the church. This is an important day and there is much celebrating. The godfather becomes the spiritual member or the family and this relationship is perpetuated throughout succeeding generations.