Every year at this time I’m reminded of how we used to celebrate Christmas in the “Old Country”. I grew up as a Serbian Orthodox, so Christmas for us comes two weeks later than that of Roman Catholics on December 25th. Serbian Orthodox Christmas is always on January 7th. This is because the Serbs follow the Julian calendar, while Roman Catholics follow the Gregorian calendar, so while most of the world welcomes New Year December 31st, Serbs welcome it on January 13th.
In the morning of January 6th, Grandpa would get my dad to go with him and together they would choose our Yule log (badnjak) which actually is a young oak branch with leaves. Cut “Badnjak” is then brought to the house, where mom and Grandma would welcome them back with the gift of “Badnjak”, and place it around the home as well as put some on the fire for good luck.
As evening approached, Grandpa would gather us all and together we would head to the stables where we’d gather straw, so we would place it on the floor of our rooms. Our traditional Christmas Eve supper was usually fish, baked beans, dried figs, dried plums and apples. Grandma used to call that “Posna Vecera” (Lent Dinner). After dinner, the neighborhood kids with their parents would head out to “Korindju” (Caroling). We would go from house to house of our small village and wish all a “Sretan Badnjak” (Happy Christmas Eve). Afterwards we’d get home and while we’d be getting ready for bed in anticipation of “Deda Mraz’s” coming, dad would cover the Yule Log with hot ashes so it would still be burning in the morning.
On Christmas Day, the first person that enters our house was called “polozajnik”. For this day people are greeted with “Hristos se rodi” (Christ is born!) to which you must reply: “Vaistinu se rodi” (Indeed he is born!). He is offered my Grandma’s Christmas specialty “zito” (which is actually a boiled wheat and sugar) and red wine. For breakfast we eat a dish made of flour, eggs, butter and cheese (“cicvara”). That is accompanied with cakes, figs and “Sljivovica“, which is Serbian homemade plum brandy. It is also a custom to prepare a bowl where young wheat is planted to grow during the coming year. Before lunch, women of the house are getting everything ready for dinner, as Lent is officially over. Men are all outside slowly roasting the pork
After a very rich and heavy lunch, which starts early and can stretch well into the afternoon, mom would bring her “cesnica” (Christmas bread). Our Christmas bread is made of lightly sweetened pastry filled with cream cheese, raisins, and pecans where a coin is hidden and us kids would always wait in anticipation of who would be the lucky recipient of this coin as that would mean prosperity into New Year. Serbian women are all very proud of their “cesnica” as it’s nicely decorated with braids, birds and roses made of dough. Christmas day meal marks the end of the lent period and for three consecutive days, Christmas is celebrated. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone through this tradition, but I still remember it fondly. What are yours?