Not all Christmases are the same. Or, in essence, they are? Five wonderful ladies, once Belgraders, who now live across the world, talk beyond the emblematic White Christmas. And introduce you to Christmas in Serbia: what to expect and what not to miss.
Jasmina, Liverpool, UK: The traditional Christmas Eve dinner on 6 January with my family and then a visit to the midnight Christmas Liturgy. Hoping to find a coin in my piece of the family’s traditional Christmas Bread Česnica. Finding it in your piece means you will prosper in the new year! Burning Badnjak – oak branches and leaves on the open fire wishing everyone good luck, health and prosperity.
Sanja, Budapest, Hungary: My birthday is 7 January, the Christmas Day in Serbia. People were impressed, saying I was blessed and special. Everybody in my neighbourhood wanted me to be their Položajnik, the first guest in the morning, who brings in the oak branches for good health and prosperity. That was quite cool. I would tell the best wishes for them loud and go back loaded with gifts and money :). In the afternoon my friends would sneak out from their family dinners to celebrate my birthday. I miss people being impressed with my date of birth. Here, 7 January is just another day.
Ivana L, Baltimore, USA: In Serbia Christmas is an intimate family holiday, it is not all about presents and parties. It is a spiritual thing, besides making a lot of good food and bonding with family. A lot of people fasten for six weeks , so Christmas day is a big time celebration. Sarma, stuffed pickled cabbage and Pečenje, roast piglet on a spit – I think every family has those on the Christmas table. The holiday dinner is always big. The smell of mulled wine and hot rakija, mezze with smoked meat, white cheese and turšija, cookies with walnuts, that is aroma of Serbian Christmas. I still remember one Christmas Eve in Belgrade, from the troubling 90s. It was late and I was on a bus with few people – some of them carried wrapped piglet on a spit, prepared for the feast next day!
Marijana, Nassau, Bahamas/Miami, USA: Christmas here? Hmmm … It goes like this: Frosty the Snowman has melted, Santa’s wearing shorts and Rudolph’s nose is only red because its sunburned!
I adopted a whole new festive routine. Instead of chestnuts roasting on open fire, making snowman with the carrot nose and freezing temperatures, it’s all about going to the beach and swimming in the ocean. Festive food is much different. People go for jumbo sized prawns from Key West. It is a stone crab season, and yellow fin tuna is another delicious food on the Christmas table. This is the best time of year for mangoes and passion fruit.
Sometimes I think I miss winter cold. There’s nothing more romantic than cozying up by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa. On the other hand, for the last two years, I’ve been content to sip margaritas instead of cocoa, lay on the beach beneath palm trees and enjoy the company of the most amazing person in the world. 😉
Ivana B, Playa del Carmen, Mexico: Blinking Santa and his reindeers waving at me from everywhere, decorated Christmas trees, decorated palm trees, elves, hectic shoppers, excited kids running around… Yet for me it doesn’t feel like real Christmas. I guess it is the same for all of us coming from ‘winter Christmases’. Where is the cold breath, pine scent of the Christmas tree and the smell of winter in the air? Still, my decorated eco tree and my little family are enough for the perfect holidays!
Ivana L, Baltimore, USA: My kids love Christmas, they still believe in Santa Claus. For them, there are two Santa Clauses, one that comes early, American, and the one that comes in January, Serbian. They feel pretty special getting presents two times.
Jasmina: Visit a church where oak branches are burnt at churchyard before the Liturgy at midnight 6/7 January. Do not miss having some Česnica on 7 January and a chance to win yourself a prosperous year!
Note by WB: Most Belgraders head to the three largest churches: the Cathedral, St Sava’s in Vračar and St Mark’s in Tašmajdan Park. So do the celebrities and the politicians. For a less crowded experience choose the church of St Alexander Nevsky in Dušanova Street or Vaznesenjska (Holy Ascension) in Admirala Geprata Street.
Ivana B: I’m a cliché Serbian girl, so Ruska salad, Sarma, and, yes, dare to try wobbling Pihtije!
Ivana L: Few years ago, my son’s class celebrated Serbian Christmas in the school and the best thing for them was Česnica, with a hidden coin that brings a good luck. They truly enjoyed the bread, more than cookies. This year, we will repeat that celebration with my daughter’s class.
Sanja: Countryside. Go to a village or to an ethno village (a recreation of a historical village) and eat all possible traditional dishes you can imagine, starters including Pršuta and Kajmak… roasted meat, Sarma and sour cabbage.
Note by WB: For a well rounded Christmas countryside experience choose Topola and Oplenac Tour by our friends Serbian Private Tours. You will experience many things countryside, festive, Serbian and historical: enchanting landscapes, a royal church rich with orthodox iconography and rare mosaics, royal vineyards, tasting local wines and enjoying a hearty meal in a comfortable country style tavern.