Sretan Badnji Dan
Serbian Orthodox Christmas Eve
Hello, I’m David and I write about my life in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
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The Badnjak comes down the hill from the church here in Čardačani, on Serbian Christmas Eve 2024.
What I grew up to experience at Christmas time, the “Christmas Tree”, that pine tree groaning with decorations, although also seen here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, isn’t part of Serbian Orthodox Christian tradition.
Instead of a pine tree they have a Badnjak.
The Badnjak, literally means "the one who brings joy", is a tree branch or entire tree that is central to Serbian Christmas celebrations. It is placed on a fire on Christmas Eve and its branches are later brought home by worshipers. The tree from which the Badnjak is cut, preferably a young, straight and undamaged Austrian oak, is ceremonially felled early on the morning of Christmas Eve.
The felling, preparation, bringing in, and laying on the fire, are surrounded by elaborate rituals, with many regional variations. The burning of the log is accompanied by prayers that the coming year brings food, happiness, love, luck, and riches. The log burns on throughout Christmas Day, when the first visitor strikes it with a poker or a branch to make sparks fly, while wishing that the family's happiness and prosperity be as abundant as the sparks.
As most Serbs today live in towns and cities, the Badnjak is often symbolically represented by a cluster of oak twigs with brown leaves attached, with which the home is decorated on Christmas Eve.
Since the early 20th century, the Serbian Badnjak tradition has also been celebrated more publicly. Before World War I, soldiers of the Kingdom of Serbia developed the custom of laying a Badnjak on a fire in their barracks. In the succeeding Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the military Badnjak ceremony was further elaborated and standardised in army service regulations, but the tradition ended at the outbreak of World War II.
Since the early 1990s, the Serbian Orthodox Church has, together with local communities, organised public celebrations on Christmas Eve in which the Badnjak plays a central role.
Parishioners festively cut the sapling to be used as the Badnjak and take it to their church, where it is consecrated by a priest before being ceremonially placed on a fire pit in the churchyard.
The Following is from Vesna who has lived near Salisbury in the United Kingdom since leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 2000’s ……..
In Serbian parts of the world, Santa brings presents for children on New Year’s Eve & Christmas is celebrated on the 7th of January.
We don’t do presents on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. Serbian Christmas is purely a family affair.
A six weeks vegan or pescatarian lent is observed before Christmas and after the 6am Christmas Day liturgy, the lent can be broken.
From then on the family feast can begin.
Various parts of the world have different customs. But usually some straw is placed under the family table, together with some winter offerings of home dried fruit and nuts - to represent the manger and the modest snacks available at the time.
Christmas Eve is when the matriarch of the house plays a role of mother hen and she offers sweets and nuts to the children of the house, who play the role of little chicks on the floor competing for food. The children await on the floor and the mother enters the room saying: Piju, piju, piju! (Pea-ewe, pea-ewe, pea-ewe!) This custom is called pijukanje (Pea-ewe-can-yeah). We used to LOVE this! Whoever grabbed the most of sweets and nuts was the winner.
On Christmas Eve the men would prepare the meat for the Christmas meal.
We don’t have Christmas trees for Christmas, the pine trees are used for New Year’s celebrations. We use an oak branch, which is called a Badnjak (Badniak). The Badnjak is felled/ cut on the Christmas Eve morning and brought into the house. It is then modestly decorated. The Badnjak represents the firewood that Joseph lit to keep the baby Jesus and Mary warm.
In my village, a large Badnjak fire is lit outside of our local church and mulled wine is drunk.
I used to absolutely love these evenings. The sense of community was magical.
When we were young, we would then carry on partying all night. The clubs stayed open all night. We would come home around five or six in the morning and sleep for a few hours. Our parents would then wake us up with offerings of hydrating drinks, 😂. “Get up! Grandma will be here soon!”
I have the fondest memories of Serbian Christmases. No commercial pressure. Just family.
It's Badnje Veče, Serbian Orthodox Christmas eve. This is Česnica, a special bread that's eaten at Christmas lunch. Hidden in the bread is a coin. The Česnica is broken by hand before being eaten, and the person who has the coin is assured of a lucky year ahead.
One of the courses for the Christmas Day lunch is also prepared in advance.
Tamara shows you how to make this below ⬇️
The Badnjak coming past our house on 6th January 2023.
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