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Serbian Christmas traditions

Serbian Christmas traditions

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The Serbian Orthodox Church
Serbian Orthodox Church
The Serbian Orthodox Church is one of the autocephalous Orthodox Christian churches, ranking sixth in order of seniority after Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Russia...

 uses the traditional Julian Calendar
Julian calendar
The Julian calendar began in 45 BC as a reform of the Roman calendar by Julius Caesar. It was chosen after consultation with the astronomer Sosigenes of Alexandria and was probably designed to approximate the tropical year .The Julian calendar has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months...

. From 1900 until 2100, the Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian and therefore Serbian Christmas Day falls on 7 January of the Gregorian calendar. Note "Christmas Day" is in fact only the first day of Christmas, as the festival is celebrated for three consecutive days.

The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić (Cyrillic
Serbian Cyrillic alphabet
The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet is an adaptation of the Cyrillic script for the Serbian language, developed in 1818 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić. It is one of the two standard modern alphabets used to write the Serbian language, the other being Latin...

: Божић, ˈbɔʒitɕ), which is the diminutive form
In language structure, a diminutive, or diminutive form , is a formation of a word used to convey a slight degree of the root meaning, smallness of the object or quality named, encapsulation, intimacy, or endearment...

 of the word bog, meaning 'god'.

There are many, complex traditions associated with the Christmas holidays. They are most likely to be seen in their purest form in large, extended families in the country. They vary from place to place, and in many areas have been updated or watered down to suit modern living.

Christmas Eve

The Serbian name for Christmas Eve during the day is Badnji dan. After sunset it becomes Badnje veče.For the pronunciation of Serbian terms, see the section "List of terms". On this day the family makes preparations for the oncoming celebration.

The dinner on this day is festive, copious and diverse in foods, although it is prepared in accordance with the rules of fasting. Groups of young people go from house to house, congratulating the holiday, singing, and making performances; this continues through the next three days.


The badnjak is a log brought into the house and placed on the fire on the evening of Christmas Eve, much like a yule log
Yule log
A Yule log is a large and extremely hard log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or Christmas celebrations in several European cultures...

 in other European traditions. There are many regional variations surrounding the customs and practices connected with the badnjak.

Early in the morning the head of each family, usually accompanied by several male relatives, selects and fells the tree from which the log will be cut for their household. The group announces its departure by firing guns or small celebratory mortars
Mortar (weapon)
A mortar is an indirect fire weapon that fires explosive projectiles known as bombs at low velocities, short ranges, and high-arcing ballistic trajectories. It is typically muzzle-loading and has a barrel length less than 15 times its caliber....

 called prangija. The Turkey oak is the most popular species of tree selected in most regions, but other oaks, or less frequently other kinds of tree, are also chosen. Generally, each household prepares one badnjak, although more are cut in some regions.

When the head of household finds a suitable tree, he stands in front of it facing east. After throwing grain at the tree, he greets it with the words "Good morning and happy Christmas Eve to you", makes the Sign of the Cross
Sign of the cross
The Sign of the Cross , or crossing oneself, is a ritual hand motion made by members of many branches of Christianity, often accompanied by spoken or mental recitation of a trinitarian formula....

, says a prayer, and kisses the tree. He then cuts it slantwise on its eastern side, using an axe. Some men put gloves on before they start to cut the tree, and from then on never touch the badnjak with their bare hands. The tree should fall to the east, unhindered by surrounding trees. Its top is removed, leaving the badnjak of such a length that allows it to be carried on a man's shoulder, up to about 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) long. Once in the home, each badnjak is leaned vertically against the house beside the entrance door. In some areas, the badnjak is cut into three logs.

In the evening, a man of the family brings their badnjak into the house. If there is more than one badnjak, the thickest of them is regarded as the main one, and is brought in first. Stepping across the threshold, right foot first, the man greets his gathered family with the words "Good evening and happy Christmas Eve to you." The woman of the house greets him back, saying "May God give you well-being, and may you have good luck", or "Good luck to you, and together with you for many years to come [may we be]", or similar, before throwing grain from a sieve at the man and the badnjak he carries.

Upon entering the house the man approaches the fireplace, called ognjište ([ˈɔɡɲiːʃtɛ])—the hearth of an ognjište is similar to a campfire
A campfire is a fire lit at a campsite, to serve the following functions: light, warmth, a beacon, a bug and/or apex predator deterrent, to cook, and for a psychological sense of security. In established campgrounds they are usually in a fire ring for safety. Campfires are a popular feature of...

, in that it has no vertical surround. He lays the badnjak down on the fire and moves it a little forward, to summon prosperity for the household. Any other logs are brought in by other males and laid on the fire parallel or perpendicular to the first. The head of the household takes a jug of wine and pours some on the badnjak; in some regions, he may strew wheat grains over the logs. He then proposes a toast
Toast (honor)
A toast is a ritual in which a drink is taken as an expression of honor or goodwill. The term may be applied to the person or thing so honored, the drink taken, or the verbal expression accompanying the drink. Thus, a person could be "the toast of the evening," for whom someone "proposes a toast"...

: "Grant, O God, that there be health and joy in this home, that our grain and grapevines yield well, that children be born healthy to us, that our property increase in the field, pen, and barn!" or similar. The head drinks a draught of wine from the jug, after which it is passed to other members of household.

The moment when the badnjak burns through may be marked with festivities, such as the log being kissed by the head of household, and wine being poured over it accompanied by toasts. A reward may be given to the family member who was the first to notice the event, and in the past the men would go outside and fire their guns in celebration. Once the log has burnt through, some families let the fire go out, while in others the men keep watch in shifts during the night to keep the badnjak burning.

Another type of the badnjak that has developed among the Serbs has mostly replaced the traditional log, whose burning is usually unfeasible in modern homes. It is a cluster of oak twigs with their brown leaves still attached, with which the home is decorated on the Eve. This cluster is also called the badnjak, and it is usually kept in the home until next Christmas Eve. For the convenience of those living in towns and cities, such little badnjaks can be bought at marketplaces or distributed in churches. In a common arrangement, the cluster of oak twigs is bound together with twigs of European Cornel
European Cornel
The European Cornel is a species of dogwood native to southern Europe and southwest Asia. In North America, the plant is known by the common name of Cornelian Cherry....

 and several stalks of straw.

Since the early 1990s the Serbian Orthodox Church has, together with local communities, organized public celebrations on Christmas Eve. There are typically three elements to such celebrations: the preparation, the ritual, and the festivity. The preparation consists of cutting down the tree to be used as the badnjak, taking it to the church yard, and preparing drink and food for the assembled parishioners. The ritual includes Vespers
Vespers is the evening prayer service in the Western Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran liturgies of the canonical hours...

, placing the badnjak on the open fire built in the church yard, blessing or consecrating the badnjak, and an appropriate program with songs and recitals. In some parishes they build the fire on which to burn the badnjak not in the church yard but at some other suitable location in their town or village. The festivity consists of gathering around the fire and socializing. Each particular celebration has its own specific traits however, reflecting the traditions of the local community.

The laying of a badnjak on the fire was considered the least a Serbian family could do to show their devotion to Serbian tradition. In Petar II Petrović-Njegoš
Petar II Petrovic-Njegoš
Petar II Petrović-Njegoš , was a Serbian Orthodox Prince-Bishop of Montenegro , who transformed Montenegro from a theocracy into a secular state. However, he is most famous as a poet...

's poem The Mountain Wreath
The Mountain Wreath
The Mountain Wreath is a poem and a play, a masterpiece of Montenegrin and Serbian literature, written by Montenegrin Prince-Bishop and poet Petar II Petrović-Njegoš.Njegoš wrote The Mountain Wreath during 1846 in Cetinje and published it the following year after the...

, the plot of which takes place in 18th-century Montenegro
Montenegro Montenegrin: Crna Gora Црна Гора , meaning "Black Mountain") is a country located in Southeastern Europe. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the south-west and is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast and Albania to the...

, Voivode Batrić urges converts to Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 to return to Christianity and Serbdom: "[...] Lay the Serbian Christmas-log [badnjak] on the fire, paint the Easter egg
Easter egg
Easter eggs are special eggs that are often given to celebrate Easter or springtime.The oldest tradition is to use dyed or painted chicken eggs, but a modern custom is to substitute chocolate eggs, or plastic eggs filled with confectionery such as jelly beans...

s various colours, observe with care the Lent
In the Christian tradition, Lent is the period of the liturgical year from Ash Wednesday to Easter. The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer – through prayer, repentance, almsgiving and self-denial – for the annual commemoration during Holy Week of the Death and...

 and Christmas fasts
Nativity Fast
The Nativity Fast is a period of abstinence and penance practiced by the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches, in preparation for the Nativity of Christ, . The fast is similar to the Western Advent, except that it runs for 40 days instead of four weeks. The fast is...

. As for the rest, do what your heart desires!"

In old Christmas songs, the badnjak and Christmas are referred to as male personages, with an opposition made between the former, described as old, and the latter, described as young. The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić, the diminutive form of the noun bog, meaning 'god'; Božić can be thus translated as Young God.

Christmas straw

Immediately after the badnjak has been brought in, or immediately before in some places, an armful of straw is spread over the floor. The straw is usually brought in with the same greetings and throwing of grain as the badnjak. The person spreading it may imitate a hen clucking to call her chicks, "Kvo, kvo, kvo", with the family's children imitating chicks, "Piju, piju, piju", while they pick at the straw. In Čečava
-Ethnic composition, 1991 census:total: 2,616* Serbs - 2,503 * "Yugoslavs" - 54 * Croats - 36 * Muslims by nationality - 1 * others and unknown - 22 -History:...

, northern Bosnia, the children then lie down on the straw, before closing their eyes and picking a stalk with their lips: the child that picked the longest stalk will supposedly be the luckiest in the following year. In the Bay of Kotor
Bay of Kotor
The Bay of Kotor in south-western Montenegro is a winding bay on the Adriatic Sea. The bay, sometimes called Europe's southernmost fjord, is in fact a submerged river canyon of the disintegrated Bokelj River which used to run from the high mountain plateaus of Mount Orjen...

, the ceremony is accompanied by the words "Kuda slama, tuda slava"—"Whither straw, thither celebration." A common custom is to scatter a handful of walnuts over the straw. It will be collected and taken out of the house on the morning of the second day after Christmas. Some of the straw may be set aside and used in apotropaic
Apotropaic magic
Apotropaic magic is a type of magic intended to "turn away" harm or evil influences."Apotropaic" observances may also be practiced out of vague superstition or out of tradition, as in good luck charm , or gestures like fingers crossed or knocking on wood.Apotropaic is an adjective that means...

 practices in the coming year.

Petar II Petrović-Njegoš describes the holiday atmosphere on Christmas Eve through the words of Abbot Stefan, a main character of The Mountain Wreath:

Ватра плама боље него игда,

прострта је слама испред огња,

прекршћени на огњу бадњаци;

пушке пучу, врте се пецива,

гусле гуде, а кола пјевају,

с унучађу ђедови играју,

по три паса врте се у кола,

све би река једногодишници;

све радошћу дивном наравњено.

А што ми се највише допада,

што свачему треба наздравити!
The fire's burning brighter than ever,
the straw is spread in front of the fire,
Christmas logs are laid on the fire crossways;
the rifles crack, and roasts on spits do turn,
the gusle
The Gusle is a single-stringed musical instrument traditionally used in the Dinarides region of the Balkans ....

 plays, and the dancers sing,
grandfathers dance with their young grandchildren,
in the kolo
Kolo (dance)
Kolo , is a collective folk dance, danced primarily by people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. It is performed amongst groups of people holding each other's having their hands around each other's waists...

 join three generations,
it seems they're almost of the same age;
everything is filled with bright mirth and joy.
But what I like best of all, so help me,
one has to drink a toast to everything!

Christmas Eve Dinner

Once the badnjak and straw have been taken into the house, the Christmas Eve dinner may begin. The head of household makes the Sign of the Cross, lights a candle, and cense
Censers are any type of vessels made for burning incense. These vessels vary greatly in size, form, and material of construction. They may consist of simple earthenware bowls or fire pots to intricately carved silver or gold vessels, small table top objects a few centimetres tall to as many as...

s the whole house. In some regions it is a custom that he then goes out into the yard, calls by name pest animals (e.g. wolves, foxes, and hawks) and his personal enemies, inviting them, "Come to dinner now and again in a year, God willing." This is intended to protect the household from them for a year.

Until the beginning of the 20th century in the Pirot District
Pirot District
The Pirot District expands in the south eastern parts of Serbia. It has a population of 92,277. Its seat is in the city of Pirot.-Municipalities:It encompasses the municipalities of:*Bela Palanka*Pirot*Babušnica...

, south-eastern Serbia
Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...

, the head of household would go out to his woodpile, where he would invite German
German (mythology)
German is a South Slavic mythological being, recorded in the folklore of eastern Serbia and northern Bulgaria. He is a male spirit associated with bringing rain and hail. His influence on these precipitations can be positive, resulting with the amount of rain beneficial for agriculture, or...

 – a male mythological being
Legendary creature
A legendary creature is a mythological or folkloric creature.-Origin:Some mythical creatures have their origin in traditional mythology and have been believed to be real creatures, for example the dragon, the unicorn, and griffin...

 associated with bringing rain and hail
Hail is a form of solid precipitation. It consists of balls or irregular lumps of ice, each of which is referred to as a hail stone. Hail stones on Earth consist mostly of water ice and measure between and in diameter, with the larger stones coming from severe thunderstorms...

. He would take with him a loaf of bread called good luck, prepared particularly for this ritual, rakia
Rakia is an alcoholic beverage that is produced by distillation of fermented fruit; it is a popular beverage throughout the Balkans. Its alcohol content is normally 40% ABV, but home-produced rakia can be stronger . Prepečenica is double-distilled rakia which has an alcohol content that may...

, wine, and a wax candle
thumb|right|[[Cetyl palmitate]], a typical wax ester.Wax refers to a class of chemical compounds that are plastic near ambient temperatures. Characteristically, they melt above 45 °C to give a low viscosity liquid. Waxes are insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents...

. At the woodpile, he would shout three times, "German, German, wherever you are, come to dinner right now, and in the summer do not let me see your eyes anywhere!" He would then light the candle, take a sip of rakia, taste some bread, drink wine, and go back into his house. Asked what happened with German, he would answer, "He came, so we dined and drank amply of rakia and wine, and then we parted." This ritual was intended to prevent summer hailstorms.

Before the table is served, it is strewn with a thin layer of straw and covered with a white cloth. The family members sit down at the table. Prior to tucking in, they all rise and a man or boy among them says a prayer, or they together sing the Troparion
A troparion in Byzantine music and in the religious music of Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a short hymn of one stanza, or one of a series of stanzas. The word probably derives from a diminutive of the Greek tropos...

 of the Nativity in Church Slavonic language:

Your birth, O Christ our God,
dawned the light of knowledge upon the earth.
For by Your birth those who adored stars
Biblical Magi
The Magi Greek: μάγοι, magoi), also referred to as the Wise Men, Kings, Astrologers, or Kings from the East, were a group of distinguished foreigners who were said to have visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh...

were taught by a star
Star of Bethlehem
In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. The star appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where magi "from the east" are inspired by the star to travel to...

to worship You, the Sun of Justice,
and to know You, Orient from on High.
O Lord, glory to You.

Christmas Eve being a fast day, the dinner is prepared in accordance with that, but it is copious and diverse in foods. Besides a round unleavened
Leavening agent
A leavening agent is any one of a number of substances used in doughs and batters that cause a foaming action which lightens and softens the finished product...

 loaf of bread called badnjački kolač, and salt, which are necessary, this meal may comprise e.g. roast fish, cooked beans, sauerkraut
Sauerkraut , directly translated from German: "sour cabbage", is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria, including Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Pediococcus. It has a long shelf-life and a distinctive sour flavor, both of which result from the lactic acid...

, noodles with ground walnuts, honey, and wine. It used to be served in some villages on a sack filled with straw, with the family seated around it on the floor. In the north Dalmatia
Dalmatia is a historical region on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. It stretches from the island of Rab in the northwest to the Bay of Kotor in the southeast. The hinterland, the Dalmatian Zagora, ranges from fifty kilometers in width in the north to just a few kilometers in the south....

n region of Bukovica
Bukovica is a geographical region in Croatia. It is situated in northern Dalmatia, between Lika in the north, Kninska Krajina in the east, and Ravni Kotari in the south-west. Prior to the war, it encompassed the western half of the Knin municipality, the eastern half of the Benkovac municipality...

, a part of food that remained after the dinner used to be put on a potsherd, and taken to the rubbish heap. Wolf was there invited for dinner, "My dear wolf, do not slaughter my sheep, here you are groats! Here you are yours, and leave mine alone!"

Following dinner, young people visit their friends, a group of whom may gather at the house of one of them. The elderly narrate stories form the olden times. Christmas songs are sung, in which Christmas is treated as a male personage. An old Christmas song from the Bay of Kotor
Bay of Kotor
The Bay of Kotor in south-western Montenegro is a winding bay on the Adriatic Sea. The bay, sometimes called Europe's southernmost fjord, is in fact a submerged river canyon of the disintegrated Bokelj River which used to run from the high mountain plateaus of Mount Orjen...

 has the following lyrics:

Božić zove svrh planine, one visoke:

„Veselite se, Srbi braćo, vrijeme vi je!

Nalagajte krupna drva, ne cijepajte!

Sijecite suvo meso, ne mjerite!

Prostirite šenič' slamu mjesto trpeze,

a po slami trpežnjake, svilom kićene!

A odaje i pendžere lovoričicom!

A ikone i stolove masliničicom!

Utočite rujna vina, rujna crvena,

i rakije lozovače prve bokare!

Vi, đevojke i nevjeste, kola igrajte,

a vi, staro i nejako, Boga molite!“
Christmas calls from top of mountain, of that lofty one,
“Be rejoicing, O Serbs, brothers, it's time for you to!
Replenish the fire with large logs, do you not chop up!
Cut off slices of the dried meat, do you not measure!
Spread bundles of the wheaten straw instead of tables,
and over the straw – tablecloths, embellished with silk!
And the chambers and the windows – with the laurel twigs!
And the icons and the tables – with the olive twigs!
Fill glasses of the ruby wine, of the ruby red,
and the first pitchers of lozovača rakia!
You, girls and newly-wed women, do the kolo
Kolo (dance)
Kolo , is a collective folk dance, danced primarily by people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. It is performed amongst groups of people holding each other's having their hands around each other's waists...

and you, old and infirm people, make prayers to God!"

In Bosnia and Herzegovina
Herzegovina is the southern region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. While there is no official border distinguishing it from the Bosnian region, it is generally accepted that the borders of the region are Croatia to the west, Montenegro to the south, the canton boundaries of the Herzegovina-Neretva...

, some Christmas songs are sung during days close to Christmas Eve, others on that day, and still others on Christmas Day itself. The following song is one of those sung in the evening before Christmas Day:

Божић сједи у травици,

у црвеној кабаници.

Божић виче иза воде:

„Пренес'те ме преко воде;

не шаљ'те ми старе бабе,

старе бабе темрљаве,

превалиће ме;

не шаљ'те ми дјевојака,

дјевојке су ђаволасте,

бациће ме;

не шаљ'те ми невјестице,

невјестице везиљице,

убошће ме;

већ ми шаљ'те домаћина

да ме превезе,

домаћин ће славити ме

довијека свог.“
Christmas is seated in the grass,
clothèd in a red overcoat.
He calls from across the water,
"Carry me over the water;
do not send me old grandmothers,
old grandmothers are feeblish,
they will let me fall;
do not send me youthful damsels,
youthful damsels are frolicsome,
they will throw me;
do not send little brides to me,
little brides are embroiderer
Embroidery is the art or handicraft of decorating fabric or other materials with needle and thread or yarn. Embroidery may also incorporate other materials such as metal strips, pearls, beads, quills, and sequins....

they will prick me;
but send me a head of household
to take me across,
household head will celebrate me
as long as he lives."

It is a custom in Banat
The Banat is a geographical and historical region in Central Europe currently divided between three countries: the eastern part lies in western Romania , the western part in northeastern Serbia , and a small...

 that, after Christmas Eve dinner, groups of children go from house to house of their neighborhood and sing to neighbors. This custom is called korinđanje, and the children who participate in it are called korinđaši. They knock on a neighbor's door or ring the doorbell; when the neighbor comes out they greet him, and ask if they are allowed to sing. If the answer is affirmative, they sing a children's ditty or the Troparion of the Nativity. As a reward, the neighbor gives them candies or even money; more traditional gifts include walnuts, prunes, apples, and cakes. Not only can Serbian children be korinđaši, but also Romanian
The Romanians are an ethnic group native to Romania, who speak Romanian; they are the majority inhabitants of Romania....

 and Hungarian ones.

Once the household members have gone to bed, an elderly woman of the family sticks a knife into the house door from the inside. Alternatively, she puts a hawthorn stake by the door, hanging a wreath of garlic
Allium sativum, commonly known as garlic, is a species in the onion genus, Allium. Its close relatives include the onion, shallot, leek, chive, and rakkyo. Dating back over 6,000 years, garlic is native to central Asia, and has long been a staple in the Mediterranean region, as well as a frequent...

 on it. This is done as a protection against curse
A curse is any expressed wish that some form of adversity or misfortune will befall or attach to some other entity—one or more persons, a place, or an object...

s, witch
Witchcraft, in historical, anthropological, religious, and mythological contexts, is the alleged use of supernatural or magical powers. A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft...

es, and demon
call - 1347 531 7769 for more infoIn Ancient Near Eastern religions as well as in the Abrahamic traditions, including ancient and medieval Christian demonology, a demon is considered an "unclean spirit" which may cause demonic possession, to be addressed with an act of exorcism...

s. For the same reason, children are rubbed with garlic on the palms, armpits, and soles before going to bed. In some regions, men keep watch in shifts by the ognjište during the night, to keep the fire burning.


Christmas Day is in fact only the first day of Christmas. The celebration is announced at dawn by church bells, and by shooting from guns and prangijas. The head of household and some of the family go to church to attend the Morning Liturgy
Divine Liturgy
Divine Liturgy is the common term for the Eucharistic service of the Byzantine tradition of Christian liturgy. As such, it is used in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Armenian Christians, both of the Armenian Apostolic Church and of the Armenian Catholic Church, use the same term...

. No one is to eat anything before tasting the prosphora
A prosphoron is a small loaf of leavened bread used in Orthodox Christian and Greek Catholic liturgies. The plural form is prosphora...

, which the head of household will bring from church for those who stay at home to do domestic tasks for this morning.

The Serbs native to the Slovenia
Slovenia , officially the Republic of Slovenia , is a country in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north, and also has a small portion of...

n region of White Carniola
White Carniola
White Carniola is a traditional region in southeastern Slovenia on the border with Croatia and is the most southern part of the historical and traditional region of Lower Carniola. Its major towns are Metlika, Črnomelj, and Semič, and the principal river is the Kolpa, which also forms part of the...

 try to see only healthy and prosperous people on this day. The Serbs of Timiş County
Timis County
Timiș , , Banat Bulgarian: ) is a county of western Romania, in the historical region Banat, with the county seat at Timișoara. It is the largest county in Romania in terms of land area....

 in Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

 have since the interwar period
Interwar period
Interwar period can refer to any period between two wars. The Interbellum is understood to be the period between the end of the Great War or First World War and the beginning of the Second World War in Europe....

 adopted the custom of erecting in their homes a Christmas tree
Christmas tree
The Christmas tree is a decorated evergreen coniferous tree, real or artificial, and a tradition associated with the celebration of Christmas. The tradition of decorating an evergreen tree at Christmas started in Livonia and Germany in the 16th century...

, which they call krisindla, after the German
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

Das Christkind is the traditional Christmas gift-bringer in regions of Austria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, parts of Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Slovakia, Hungary, parts of Hispanic America, in certain areas of southern Brazil and in the Acadiana region of Louisiana...

l. On Christmas Day children sing little songs, at the beginning of which Christmas is said to knock or tread loudly. This may be understood as a theophany
Theophany, from the Ancient Greek , meaning "appearance of God"), refers to the appearance of a deity to a human or other being, or to a divine disclosure....

: by the sound, Young God makes his arrival known to people. The following are the lyrics of two of such songs:

Божић штапом бата,

носи сува злата

од врата до врата.

На чија ће врата

дат' благослов, злата?

На наша ће врата

просут' шаку злата.
Christmas knocks with a stick,
he carries solid gold
from a door to a door.
Upon whose door will he
give his blessing and gold?
Upon our door he will
spill a handful of gold.
Божић, Божић бата,
носи киту злата
да позлати врата,
и од боја до боја,
и сву кућу до крова!
Christmas, Christmas treads loud,
carries a clump of gold
to make golden the door,
and also, from floor to floor,
all the house to the rooftop!

Strong water

A girl or woman goes early in the morning to a resource of water, as a well
Water well
A water well is an excavation or structure created in the ground by digging, driving, boring or drilling to access groundwater in underground aquifers. The well water is drawn by an electric submersible pump, a trash pump, a vertical turbine pump, a handpump or a mechanical pump...

, spring
Spring (hydrosphere)
A spring—also known as a rising or resurgence—is a component of the hydrosphere. Specifically, it is any natural situation where water flows to the surface of the earth from underground...

, or stream
A stream is a body of water with a current, confined within a bed and stream banks. Depending on its locale or certain characteristics, a stream may be referred to as a branch, brook, beck, burn, creek, "crick", gill , kill, lick, rill, river, syke, bayou, rivulet, streamage, wash, run or...

. Putting by the resource an ear of maize
Maize known in many English-speaking countries as corn or mielie/mealie, is a grain domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica in prehistoric times. The leafy stalk produces ears which contain seeds called kernels. Though technically a grain, maize kernels are used in cooking as a vegetable...

 and a bunch of basil
Basil, or Sweet Basil, is a common name for the culinary herb Ocimum basilicum , of the family Lamiaceae , sometimes known as Saint Joseph's Wort in some English-speaking countries....

 which she has brought from home, she collects water with a bucket, and takes it home to her family. This water collected on early Christmas morning is called strong water, believed to possess a special beneficial power. Each member of the family washes the face with it, and drinks it before breakfast; infants are bathed in it. On her way back home, the girl who carries strong water picks several cornel or willow
Willows, sallows, and osiers form the genus Salix, around 400 species of deciduous trees and shrubs, found primarily on moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere...

 twigs, with which children are gently struck that morning. This is intended to strengthen their health.There is a Serbian
The Serbs are a South Slavic ethnic group of the Balkans and southern Central Europe. Serbs are located mainly in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and form a sizable minority in Croatia, the Republic of Macedonia and Slovenia. Likewise, Serbs are an officially recognized minority in...

 saying for a healthy person: zdrav kao dren, "as healthy as cornel
European Cornel
The European Cornel is a species of dogwood native to southern Europe and southwest Asia. In North America, the plant is known by the common name of Cornelian Cherry....



A polažajnik, called also polaženik, polaznik, or radovan, is the first person who visits a family during Christmas. This visit may be fortuitous or pre-arranged. People expect that it will summon prosperity and well-being for their household in the ensuing year. A family often picks in advance a man or boy, and arranges that he visit them on Christmas morning. If this proves to be lucky for the family, he is invited again next year to be the polažajnik. If not, they send word to him not to come any more in that capacity.

A polažajnik steps into the house with his right foot first, greeting the gathered family, "Christ is Born, Happy Christmas." He carries grain in his glove, which he shakes out before the threshold, or throws at the family members. "Truly He is Born," they respond throwing grain at him. The polažajnik then approaches the ognjište, takes a poker or a branch, and strikes repeatedly the burning badnjak to make sparks fly from it. At the same time he utters these words (or similar):

Колико варница, толико среће у овој кући.

Колико варница, толико у домаћинском џепу новаца.

Колико варница, толико у тору оваца.

Колико варница, толико прасади и јагањаца.

Колико варница, толико гусака и пилади,

а највише здравља и весеља.
How many sparks, that much happiness in this house.
How many sparks, that much money in the household head's pocket.
How many sparks, that many sheep in the pen
Pen (enclosure)
A pen is an enclosure for holding livestock. The term describes multiple types of enclosures that may confine one or many animals. Construction and terminology varies depending on region of the world, purpose, animal species to be confined, local materials used, and cultural tradition...

How many sparks, that many pigs and lambs.
How many sparks, that many geese and chickens,
and most of all, health and joy.

Having said that, he moves the log a little forward and throws a coin into the fire. The woman of the house puts a woolen blanket on the polažajniks back, and seats him on a low stool by the ognjište. In the moment when he sits down, they try to pull away the stool beneath him, as if to make him fall on the floor. The polažajnik goes out into the yard, and throws grain inside a circle made with the rope with which Christmas straw has been tied, calling chickens. When they gather in the circle he catches a rooster, whose head is then cut off by him or the head of household on the house's threshold. The rooster will be roasted on a wooden spit as a part of Christmas dinner. A polažajnik usually stays for dinner at his hosts' home. He is gifted a round cake with an embedded coin, and a towel, shirt, socks, or some other useful thing.

A modern version of the custom to make sparks fly from the badnjak is adapted to houses without an ognjište. Several oak twigs, which symbolically represent a badnjak, are put on fire in a wood-burning kitchen stove. The polažajnik stirs them with a poker saying the aforementioned words.

A custom to use a domestic animal as a polažajnik was kept in some regions until the first half of the 20th century. A sheep, ox, swine, or calf was led into the house on Christmas morning. In the west Serbian region of Rađevina, centered in the town Krupanj
Krupanj is a town and municipality located in the Mačva District of Serbia. The municipality has a total population of 17,398, while the town has a population of 4,455 .-Geography:...

, the head of household would place a sheep between himself and the ognjište, and pronounce the aforementioned words while striking the badnjak with a branch cut from it. In the region of Bihor
Bihor, Montenegro
Bihor is a geographical region in northeastern Montenegro. The region is within two municipalities, Berane and Bijelo Polje. It was named after Bihor, a former medieval town that was near Bijelo Polje. The region mainly consists of ethnic Bosniaks....

, north-eastern Montenegro
Montenegro Montenegrin: Crna Gora Црна Гора , meaning "Black Mountain") is a country located in Southeastern Europe. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the south-west and is bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast and Albania to the...

, a round loaf of bread with a hole in its center was prepared; four grooves were impressed into its surface along two mutually perpendicular diameters of the loaf. After an ox was led into the house, the loaf was put on his horn, and some grain was thrown on him. Yanking his head, the ox would throw off the loaf; having fallen down, it would break into four pieces along the grooves. The pieces were picked up and distributed among the family members. This custom was preserved up to the 1950s even in some Muslim families of the region. Ethnologist
Ethnology is the branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the origins, distribution, technology, religion, language, and social structure of the ethnic, racial, and/or national divisions of humanity.-Scientific discipline:Compared to ethnography, the study of single groups through direct...

s consider that the animal polažajnik is more ancient than the human one.


In the morning of Christmas Day, or more often Eve, men build a fire in the house yard, and roast a pig, or more rarely a sheep (pečenica) on a long wooden spit. People who raise their own swine dedicate one for the pečenica a month or two before, and feed it with better fodder
Fodder or animal feed is any agricultural foodstuff used specifically to feed domesticated livestock such as cattle, goats, sheep, horses, chickens and pigs. Most animal feed is from plants but some is of animal origin...

. It used to be killed on Tucindan, the day before Christmas Eve, by hitting on the head with a lump of salt. Its throat was then cut, the blood being collected and mixed with fodder. Feeding cattle with this mixture was believed to make them thrive. The name Tucindan is derived from the verb tući, meaning 'to beat'. The pig is now usually slaughtered on the same day when it will be cooked. Those who roast the pečenica on Christmas Eve, bring it after the roasting into the house with the ritual similar to that of bringing in the badnjak.

Christmas loaves

An essential feature of Christmas dinner is a česnica
A česnica is the ceremonial, round loaf of bread that is an indispensable part of Christmas dinner in Serbian tradition. The preparation of this bread may be accompanied by various rules and rituals. A coin is often put into the dough during the kneading; other small objects may also be inserted...

, which is a round loaf of bread. Dough for a česnica is made with strong water. While it is kneaded, a golden or silver coin is put into it. Some people put also little objects made of cornel wood
European Cornel
The European Cornel is a species of dogwood native to southern Europe and southwest Asia. In North America, the plant is known by the common name of Cornelian Cherry....

, representing chickens, oxen, cows, swine, bees, etc.

In addition to a česnica, other kinds of Christmas loaves may be regionally baked, each with its specific name and purpose within the celebration. A božićni kolač, meaning Christmas cake, is despite its name a round loaf of bread. Before baking, a Christogram
A Christogram is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ, traditionally used as a Christian symbol. Different types of Christograms are associated with the various traditions of Christianity, e.g...

 is impressed on its upper side with a wooden seal. For each male member of the family a round loaf named ratarica is made – the biggest one for the head, and the smallest one for the youngest boy. As for the female members, for each of them a pletenica is prepared, a loaf shaped like a three-strand braid
A braid is a complex structure or pattern formed by intertwining three or more strands of flexible material such as textile fibres, wire, or human hair...

 – the biggest one for the woman of the house, and the smallest one for the youngest girl. A set of little loaves is baked with a different symbol inscribed on the upper side of each of them, representing: a vineyard, barrel, hoof, ox, cow with a calf, sow with a piglet, ewe with a lamb, mare with a foal, hen with chicks, plow, hand of a sower, goose, or pigeon.

Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner is the most celebratory meal a family has during a year. In the early afternoon the family members sit down at the table. When the head of household gives a sign, all rise. He lights a candle, incenses his family and house, and prays the Lord's Prayer
Lord's Prayer
The Lord's Prayer is a central prayer in Christianity. In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, it appears in two forms: in the Gospel of Matthew as part of the discourse on ostentation in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the Gospel of Luke, which records Jesus being approached by "one of his...

. After that, they all kiss each other on the cheek saying, "The peace of God among us, Christ is Born." They together hold the česnica and rotate it three times counterclockwise
Circular motion can occur in two possible directions. A clockwise motion is one that proceeds in the same direction as a clock's hands: from the top to the right, then down and then to the left, and back to the top...

, singing the Troparion of the Nativity. They then break the česnica among themselves, a piece of which is set aside for absent family members, another piece for a stranger who might become their guest, and the rest is used during the dinner. It is said that the one who finds the coin hidden in the česnica will have an exceptionally good luck in the ensuing year. In some regions, a half of this festive loaf is set aside and eaten on New Year's Day
New Year's Day
New Year's Day is observed on January 1, the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar used in ancient Rome...

 as per Julian calendar, i. e. January 14 on the Gregorian calendar. The main course
Main course
A main dish is the featured or primary dish in a meal consisting of several courses. It usually follows the entrée course, and the salad course. In North American usage it may in fact be called the "entree"....

 of Christmas dinner is roast pork of the pečenica. During the dinner, the head of household proposes a toast
Toast (honor)
A toast is a ritual in which a drink is taken as an expression of honor or goodwill. The term may be applied to the person or thing so honored, the drink taken, or the verbal expression accompanying the drink. Thus, a person could be "the toast of the evening," for whom someone "proposes a toast"...

 to his family with a glass of wine several times. The verbalization of these toasts is usually traditional, for example this one from Herzegovina
Herzegovina is the southern region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. While there is no official border distinguishing it from the Bosnian region, it is generally accepted that the borders of the region are Croatia to the west, Montenegro to the south, the canton boundaries of the Herzegovina-Neretva...

 and Montenegro:

Сјај Боже и Божићу,

кућњем шљемену и сјемену,

волу и тежаку, козици и овчици,

путнику намјернику, рибици у водици, птици у горици!

Сјај Боже и Божићу,

Мени домаћину и моме племену и шљемену!
Shine, O God and Christmas,
on rooftop and children of house,
on ox and farmer, goat and sheep,
on traveler, fish in water, bird in mountain!
Shine, O God and Christmas,
on me, head of household, and on my family and rooftop!

After Christmas dinner, the remaining food should not be removed from the table – only the used tableware is taken away. The food is covered with a white cloth, and eaten in the evening as supper.


The koleda is a custom that a group of young men, mask
A mask is an article normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes...

ed and costumed, goes from house to house of their village singing special koleda songs and performing acts of magic to summon health, wealth, and prosperity for each household. The members of the group are called koledari. The koleda is carried out from the Feast of Saint Ignatius Theophorus
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of John the Apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology...

 (five days before Christmas) up until the Epiphany. This custom is best preserved in the upper Pčinja District
Pcinja District
The Pčinja District expands to the southern parts of Serbia, bordering Bulgaria and the Republic of Macedonia. Its seat is in the city of Vranje....

, and in the region around the River South Morava in the Jablanica District
Jablanica District
The Jablanica District expands in the south eastern parts of Serbia. It has a population of 215,463...

, south-eastern Serbia. Regarded as pagan and discouraged by the Serbian Orthodox Church, the koleda ceased to be performed among most of the Serbs during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Koledari prepare themselves during several days before the start of the koleda: they practice the koleda songs, and make their masks and costumes. The masks can be classified into three types according to the characters they represent: the anthropomorphic, the zoomorphic (representing bear, cow, stag, goat, sheep, ox, wolf, stork, etc.), and the anthropo-zoomorphic. The main material from which they are produced is hide. The face, however, may be made separately out of a dried gourd shell or a piece of wood, and then sewn to hide so that the mask can cover all the head. The moustache, beard, and eyebrows are made with black wool, horsehair, or hemp
Hemp is mostly used as a name for low tetrahydrocannabinol strains of the plant Cannabis sativa, of fiber and/or oilseed varieties. In modern times, hemp has been used for industrial purposes including paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, construction, health food and fuel with modest...

 fibers, and the teeth with beans. Zoomorphic and anthropo-zoomorphic masks may have white, black, or red painted horns attached to them. The costumes are prepared from ragged clothes, sheepskin
Sheepskin is the hide of a sheep, sometimes also called lambskin or lambswool.Sheepskin may also refer to:* Parchment, a thin material made from calfskin, sheepskin or goatskin** Diploma, originally made of sheepskin...

s with the wool turned outside, and calf hides. Strings of little bells and ratchet
Ratchet (instrument)
A ratchet, also called a noisemaker , is an orchestral musical instrument played by percussionists. Operating on the principle of the ratchet device, a gearwheel and a stiff board is mounted on a handle, which can be freely rotated...

s are fastened around the waist and the knees of the costumes. An ox tail with a bell fixed at its end may be attached at the back of them.

The leader of the group is called Grandpa. The other koledari gather at his house on the eve of koleda, and at midnight they all go out and start their activities. Walking through streets of the village they shout and make noise with bells and ratchets. Most are armed with sabers or club
Club (weapon)
A club is among the simplest of all weapons. A club is essentially a short staff, or stick, usually made of wood, and wielded as a weapon since prehistoric times....

s. One of them, called Bride, is masked and costumed as a pregnant woman. He holds a distaff
As a noun, a distaff is a tool used in spinning. It is designed to hold the unspun fibers, keeping them untangled and thus easing the spinning process. It is most commonly used to hold flax, and sometimes wool, but can be used for any type of fiber. Fiber is wrapped around the distaff, and tied in...

 in his hand and spins
Spinning (textiles)
Spinning is a major industry. It is part of the textile manufacturing process where three types of fibre are converted into yarn, then fabric, then textiles. The textiles are then fabricated into clothes or other artifacts. There are three industrial processes available to spin yarn, and a...

 hemp fibers. The koledari tease and joke with Bride, which gives a comic note to the koleda. Several of them are called alosnici (s. alosnik), representing men possessed by the demon ala
Ala (demon)
An ala or hala is a female mythological creature recorded in the folklore of Bulgarians, Macedonians, and Serbs. Ale are considered demons of bad weather whose main purpose is to lead hail-producing thunderclouds in the direction of fields, vineyards, or orchards to destroy the crops, or loot and...

. There may be other named characters in the group.

The koledari sing special songs, in which the word koledo, the vocative case
Vocative case
The vocative case is the case used for a noun identifying the person being addressed and/or occasionally the determiners of that noun. A vocative expression is an expression of direct address, wherein the identity of the party being spoken to is set forth expressly within a sentence...

 of koleda, is inserted in the middle and at the end of each verse. Grandpa initiates each song, determining which one will be sung at a given time. His choice depends on whether they are in a street, or coming in front of, entering, staying in, or leaving a house: there is a separate set of the songs for each of these situations. Vuk Stefanović Karadžić
Vuk Stefanovic Karadžic
Vuk Stefanović Karadžić was a Serbian philolog and linguist, the major reformer of the Serbian language, and deserves, perhaps, for his collections of songs, fairy tales, and riddles to be called the father of the study of Serbian folklore. He was the author of the first Serbian dictionary...

 recorded in the 19th century the lyrics of a number of the koleda songs, including the following one, which koledari sung while entering a house:

Добар вече, коледо, домаћине, коледо!

Затекосмо где вечера,

на трпези вино пије,

твој говедар код говеда.

Краве ти се истелиле,

све волове витороге;

кобиле се иждребиле,

све коњице путоноге;

овце ти се изјагњиле,

све овчице свилоруне.

Чобанин се наслонио

на гранчицу ораову.

Туд пролази млада мома,

да поткине ту гранчицу.

Проговара чобанине:

„Девојчице, бело лице,

ко ти реза борну сукњу,

у скутови разбориту,

у појасу сабориту?“

„Имам брата баш-терзију,

те ми реза борну сукњу,

у скутови разбориту,

у појасу сабориту.“
Good evening, koledo, head of household, koledo!
We've found him eat the evening meal,
and drink of wine at a table,
your cow herder, by your cattle.
May all of your cows be calving
nothing but the twist-horned oxen;
may all of your mares be foaling
nothing but the colts with stockings;
may all of your ewes be lambing
nothing but the silken-wooled sheep.
A sheep herder has leaned himself
on a slender stick of walnut
Juglans is a plant genus of the family Juglandaceae, the seeds of which are known as walnuts. They are deciduous trees, 10–40 meters tall , with pinnate leaves 200–900 millimetres long , with 5–25 leaflets; the shoots have chambered pith, a character shared with the wingnuts , but not the hickories...

There passes by a young damsel
to pull away that slender stick.
The sheep herder begins to speak,
"Little damsel with a white face,
who has fashioned your pleat
A pleat is a type of fold formed by doubling fabric back upon itself and securing it in place. It is commonly used in clothing and upholstery to gather a wide piece of fabric to a narrower circumference....

ed dress,
along the skirt, with spreading pleats,
at the waistline
Waistline (clothing)
The waistline is the line of demarcation between the upper and lower portions of a garment, which notionally corresponds to the natural waist but may vary with fashion from just below the bust to below the hips. The waistline of a garment is often used to accentuate different features...

, with gathered pleats?"
"My brother is tailor-in-chief,
he has fashioned my pleated dress,
along the skirt, with spreading pleats,
at the waistline, with gathered pleats."

In the following song, also recorded by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, the badnjak and Christmas are referred to as male personages. An opposition is made between the former, described as old, and the latter, described as young. Koledari sung it to the household head in whose home they came:

Домаћине, коледо, господине, коледо!

Застасмо те за вечером,

где вечеру ти вечераш,

белим грлом вино пијеш,

и очима бисер бројиш,

и рукама гајтан плетеш.

Додај нама крај гајтана,

на чем ћемо Бога молит

за старога - за Бадњака,

за младога - за Божића.
Head of household, koledo, honored master, koledo!
We've found you at the evening meal:
you are eating your evening meal,
with the white throat drinking of wine,
and with the eyes counting up pearls,
and with the hands knitting ribbon.
Pass the end of ribbon to us,
on which we will pray to the God
for the old one - for the Badnjak,
for the young one - for the Christmas.

Besides the singing, the koledari also chase away demons from the household. First they search the house to find out where the demons hide. They look everywhere, at the same time shouting, dancing, jumping, knocking on the floor and walls with sticks, and teasing Bride. When they find the demons, they drive them out of the hiding place, and fight with them swinging their sabers and clubs. After the demons are chased away, the koledari briefly dance the kolo
Kolo (dance)
Kolo , is a collective folk dance, danced primarily by people from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. It is performed amongst groups of people holding each other's having their hands around each other's waists...

, and then bless the household. As a reward, they receive a loaf of bread which the family prepared specially for them, and other food gifts.


On Christmas Eve and Day, a group of boys dressed in variegated costumes goes from house to house of their village carrying a vertep—a litter
Litter (vehicle)
The litter is a class of wheelless vehicles, a type of human-powered transport, for the transport of persons. Examples of litter vehicles include lectica , jiao [较] , sedan chairs , palanquin , Woh , gama...

 constructed as a wooden model of a house or a church. The name vertep comes from the Church Slavonic вєртє́пъ (ʋerˈtep), meaning cave, referring to the cave that housed the manger
Church of the Nativity
The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the oldest continuously operating churches in the world. The structure is built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth, and thus it is considered sacred by Christians...

 in which newborn Jesus Christ
Nativity of Jesus
The Nativity of Jesus, or simply The Nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus in two of the Canonical gospels and in various apocryphal texts....

 was laid. There are two dolls inside the litter: one represents the Theotokos
Theotokos is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God...

, and the other, laid in a model of a manger, represents the Christ Child; the floor is spread with straw. This custom is called vertep, and the boys participating in it are the vertepaši. In front of each house they sing Christmas songs, and recite poems that praise the birth of Christ. Similarly to koledari, vertepaši are armed with wooden swords and fence with each other in front of houses. Vertep could be regarded as a Christianized form of the koleda. This custom is mainly present among the Serbs of Vojvodina
Vojvodina, officially called Autonomous Province of Vojvodina is an autonomous province of Serbia. Its capital and largest city is Novi Sad...


Second and third day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas, families visit each other at their homes. On the third day, Christmas straw is taken out of houses. Little bundles are made with it, and hung on fruit trees to make the fruit better. A bigger bundle of it is stored in a dry place: it will be burned on St. George's Day, as a protection of fields against hail
Hail is a form of solid precipitation. It consists of balls or irregular lumps of ice, each of which is referred to as a hail stone. Hail stones on Earth consist mostly of water ice and measure between and in diameter, with the larger stones coming from severe thunderstorms...

. Another bundle is taken away across the nearest stream – a symbolic elimination of all the vermin that may be present in the house. Men make crosses from the remnant of the thicker side of badnjak, and stick them under eaves
The eaves of a roof are its lower edges. They usually project beyond the walls of the building to carry rain water away.-Etymology:"Eaves" is derived from Old English and is both the singular and plural form of the word.- Function :...

, on fields, meadows, vineyards, and apiaries
An apiary is a place where beehives of honey bees are kept. Traditionally beekeepers paid land rent in honey for the use of small parcels. Some farmers will provide free apiary sites, because they need pollination, and farmers who need many hives often pay for them to be moved to the crops when...

. It is believed this will help that the ensuing year be happy and fruitful. A good sign that this will be the case is when there is a lot of snow on Christmas Day.

The third day of Christmas coincides with St. Stephen's Day
St. Stephen's Day
St. Stephen's Day, or the Feast of St. Stephen, is a Christian saint's day celebrated on 26 December in the Western Church and 27 December in the Eastern Church. Many Eastern Orthodox churches adhere to the Julian calendar and mark St. Stephen's Day on 27 December according to that calendar, which...

, which is the slava
The Slava , also called Krsna Slava and Krsno ime , is the Serbian Orthodox tradition of the ritual celebration and veneration of a family's own patron saint. The family celebrates the Slava annually on the patron saint's feast day...

 of many Serbian families. It is also the slava of Republika Srpska
Republika Srpska
Republika Srpska is one of two main political entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina...

. In this way, many Serbs celebrate two important holidays, Christmas and slava, within three days.

Twelve Days of Christmas

During the Twelve Days of Christmas
Twelve Days of Christmas
The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day . This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which...

 (January 7 – January 18 on the Gregorian calendar), one is to greet another person with "Christ is Born," which should be responded to with "Truly He is Born."

January 14 (of the Gregorian calendar) is New Year's Day or Mali Božić – Little Christmas. The head and the right Boston butt
Boston butt
Boston butt is a cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg and may contain the blade bone. In the US, smoked or barbecued Boston butt is a southern tradition...

 of pečenica, from the Christmas dinner, are served for dinner on this day. A part of this meal consists of little round loaves made with cornmeal
Cornmeal is flour ground from dried maize or American corn. It is a common staple food, and is ground to fine, medium, and coarse consistencies. In the United States, the finely ground cornmeal is also referred to as cornflour. However, the word cornflour denotes cornstarch in recipes from the...

 and cream
Cream is a dairy product that is composed of the higher-butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, over time, the lighter fat rises to the top. In the industrial production of cream this process is accelerated by using centrifuges called "separators"...

. They are named vasilica after Saint Basil the Great
Basil of Caesarea
Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great, was the bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia, Asia Minor . He was an influential 4th century Christian theologian...

, because January 1 is also the feast day of this saint. People versed in scapulimancy
Scapulimancy is the practice of divination by use of scapulae...

 used the shoulder blade
In anatomy, the scapula , omo, or shoulder blade, is the bone that connects the humerus with the clavicle ....

 of the Boston butt to foretell events concerning the family in the ensuing year. The snout cut from the head of pečenica could have been used in love magic
Love magic
Love magic is the attempt to bind the passions of another, or to capture them as a sex object through magical means rather than through direct activity. It can be implemented in a variety of ways, such as written spells, dolls, charms, amulets, love potions, or different rituals.Love magic has...

. If a girl looked stealthily through the snout at a boy she loved, but who did not care for her, he would supposedly go mad about her.

On the day before Little Christmas, especially in south-eastern Serbia, a group of young unmarried men goes through streets of their village and chase away demons by making a deafening noise. Sirovari, as these men are called, shout as loud as possible two words, "Sirovo burovo!" accompanied by the noise made with bells, ratchet
Ratchet (instrument)
A ratchet, also called a noisemaker , is an orchestral musical instrument played by percussionists. Operating on the principle of the ratchet device, a gearwheel and a stiff board is mounted on a handle, which can be freely rotated...

s, and horseshoes strung on a rope. The group consists of seven, nine or eleven members; it is said that if there were an even number of sirovari, one of them would die within a year. Moving through the village, they try to make it impossible for anyone to count them. They constantly change positions in the group, hide and suddenly reappear. Villagers are glad to receive them in their homes, and treat them with food and drink.

The following custom was recorded at the end of the 19th century in the north Dalmatian region of Bukovica
Bukovica is a geographical region in Croatia. It is situated in northern Dalmatia, between Lika in the north, Kninska Krajina in the east, and Ravni Kotari in the south-west. Prior to the war, it encompassed the western half of the Knin municipality, the eastern half of the Benkovac municipality...

. Early in the morning of Little Christmas, children of a family would spread Christmas straw from their house around the stake in the center of their village's threshing floor
Threshing floor
A threshing floor is a specially flattened surface, usually circular and paved, where a farmer would thresh the grain harvest and then winnow it, before the advent of threshing machines from the nineteenth century onwards. The threshing floor was either owned by the entire village or by a single...

. The use of this stake was to tether a horse to it; the animal was then driven around to thresh grain
Threshing is the process of loosening the edible part of cereal grain from the scaly, inedible chaff that surrounds it. It is the step in grain preparation after harvesting and before winnowing, which separates the loosened chaff from the grain...

 by treading with its hooves. The woman of the house would bake a big round unleavened loaf of bread with a hole in its center, inscribed with circles, crosses, hooks, and other symbols on its surface. The loaf would be taken to the threshing floor, and fixed round the stake. The oldest man of the family would hold the stake with his right hand above the loaf. As for his left hand, the next oldest man would hold it with his right hand, and so on to the youngest boy who could walk steadily. Holding hands in this manner, they would run around the stake three times. During the running they would shout in unison as loud as possible, "Ajd ajde, koba moja!" meaning "Giddy-up, my mare!" – except for the man holding the stake, who would shout, "De! De! De!" meaning "Go! Go! Go!" They would after that take the hollow loaf back home, and put it near the ognjište beside the remnant of badnjak. The woman of the house would "feed them fodder", i.e. prepare a meal for them, consisting of đevenica (a sort of dried sausage), roast pork, and the hollow loaf, plus rakia
Rakia is an alcoholic beverage that is produced by distillation of fermented fruit; it is a popular beverage throughout the Balkans. Its alcohol content is normally 40% ABV, but home-produced rakia can be stronger . Prepečenica is double-distilled rakia which has an alcohol content that may...

 for adults. Having eaten, they would go back to the threshing floor and repeat the whole ritual, only this time without the loaf. In the end, they would collect Christmas straw from the threshing floor; it was put in hens' nests to prevent them from laying eggs outside the nests. This custom was considered as especially joyful for children.

The last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, January 18 (January 5 on the Julian calendar), is the eve of the Epiphany. Its folk name is KrstovdanThis Krstovdan should not be confused with the Feast of Exaltation of the Cross, whose folk name in Serbian is also Krstovdan. – the Day of the Cross. This is a strict fast day; the adults should eat almost nothing. It was believed that the north, south, east, and west winds crossed each other on Krstovdan. The wind that overpowered the other three, would be dominant in the ensuing year.

This twelve-day period used to be called the unbaptized days, during which demonic forces of all kinds were considered to be more than usually active and dangerous. People were cautious not to attract their attention, and did not go out late at night. The latter precaution especially applied to the demons called karakondžula, imagined as heavy, squat, and ugly creatures. When a karakondžula found someone outdoors during the night of an unbaptized day, it would jump on his back, and make him carry it wherever it wanted. This torture would end only when roosters announced the dawn; at that moment the creature would release its victim and run away.


Gift giving during Christmas is not a Serbian tradition - instead, gifts are given on the three Sundays before Christmas Day - Detinjci or Djetinjci, Materice, and Oci. Children give gifts on Detinjci, married women on Materice, and married men on Oci. The best presents are exchanged between parents and their children.

The gifts are given in the form of a ransom
Ransom is the practice of holding a prisoner or item to extort money or property to secure their release, or it can refer to the sum of money involved.In an early German law, a similar concept was called bad influence...

. In the morning of Detinjci, adults use a belt, rope, or scarf to tie their and neighbors' children. A child is tied by its legs – to one another if it stands, or to a chair if it sits. Children have already prepared presents for this event, with which they "pay the ransom" to their parents or neighbors who have tied them, and get untied. In the morning of Materice, a child or siblings suddenly tie their mother in the same manner as they have been tied on Detinjci. The mother, as if surprised, asks why she has been tied. The children then wish a happy Feast of Materice to her, and she pays the "ransom" with prepared presents, after which they untie her. They may do the same with married women from their neighborhood, receiving from them usually some smaller gifts, as candies and fruits. Mothers prepare a family feast for dinner on this day. In the morning of Oci, the Sunday immediately before Christmas Day, a child or siblings together tie their father and married men from their neighborhood, who too must pay the "ransom" to get untied. Women as well may be the tying ones on Oci. Instead of actually tying a child, woman, or man, it is often sufficient just to show them a rope to receive a present from them. Out of these three holidays, Materice is the most festive. It is sometimes celebrated even among those who do not celebrate Detinjci and Oci.

List of terms

The following is a list of Serbian terms related to Christmas, written in the Serbian Latin alphabet and the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet
Serbian Cyrillic alphabet
The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet is an adaptation of the Cyrillic script for the Serbian language, developed in 1818 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić. It is one of the two standard modern alphabets used to write the Serbian language, the other being Latin...

, with pronunciations transcribed in the IPA
International Phonetic Alphabet
The International Phonetic Alphabet "The acronym 'IPA' strictly refers [...] to the 'International Phonetic Association'. But it is now such a common practice to use the acronym also to refer to the alphabet itself that resistance seems pedantic...

 (see WP:IPA for Serbo-Croatian).