Christmas in Serbia

The Nativity Fast begins 40 days before Christmas Day and has two aspects: spiritual and physical. The spiritual aspect of fasting is the abstention from evil thoughts and deeds. The physical aspect entails the complete avoidance of fatty foods, which includes all animal-sourced food products (meat, milk, dairy products and eggs). Fish may be eaten on certain days.

On Christmas Eve, the owner of the house goes out early in the morning to collect an oak branch (badnjak) which is brought into the house at sunset that evening. Christmas Eve dinner is strictly in accordance with church rules on fasting and bread is not cut by knife, but broken by hand. Apart from yeast-free round-bread, fish, honey, wine and bean stew are consumed, as well as walnuts, apples, pears, prunes, dates, other dried fruit, almonds and hazelnuts.The Nativity Fast ends on Christmas Day which Serbs celebrate according to the old Julian calendar, meaning that it falls on 7th January by the modern calendar. The položajnik is the first person to enter the house on Christmas morning and it is believed that he brings well-being to the home. He greets the household members by saying, “Christ is born!” (Hristos se rodi!) to which the household replies, “He is born indeed!” (Vaistinu se rodi!)

Christmas dinner is formal and consists of certain ceremonial foods which are only prepared on this day: Christmas pečenica (roasted whole pig) and česnica – a cake of wheat flour in which a coin is hidden and which is only broken by hand. Whoever finds the coin in their portion of bread will have good fortune for the next year.


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