This past Friday, January 7, was Orthodox Christmas or Bozic depending on what kind of tongue you are working with.  As I amass more time served with the Serbian people I realize that the bulk of their time spent socializing is routine.  That is true with most people.  This year’s Christmas festivities were almost identical to last years.

We got to church and we literally could not get in the door.  I pulled the door open and was staring at the backs of several people.  This was a relief to me because that meant I wouldn’t have to shove my way into the main room and stare at the frescos on the wall while the priest did his thing in Serbian.  That relief was short-lived however as the wife handed me two candles to light.  Lighting one candle for the living and one for the dead meant that I had to make my way into the main room so the push was on.  After I did that I took advantage of the packed house and the wife being on the other side of the mass of people and crept my way out the door.  I figured that I would wait it out while everyone was in line to get blessed with holy oil from the priest.  There was one tragic flaw in my plan and that was the bitter midwestern cold!  I couldn’t take it anymore so I wandered back inside to find the wife and rub some warmth back into my hands.  Most everyone had gone through line and I found her pretty quick.

“Did you go through line?” she asked.

“Yep, sure did.”  I replied.

“Then why can’t I see the cross on your forehead?”

Sheepishly I said, “Uhhhh, I didn’t.”

“Don’t lie to me in church.”

And with that we were in line.

After getting busted like a six-year-old with his finger in his nose, we went to the church hall for dinner and drinks.  There are always drinks at the church which is, I think, the only reason there is regular attendance.  We were at the table with the in-laws, a sister and some friends.  On the table there was a dead tree branch with dried up maple leaves still attached to it.  I had seen people grabbing branches and leaves from inside the church and putting them in their cars.  This whole scene played out last Christmas, as it does every year, but I had never asked what the significance was. So, at the table I asked. The wife didn’t know, so she asked her sister, who didn’t know.  Then the sister asked a younger woman at the table, who also did not know.  She then asked her mother who cocked her head slightly, then stared, then shrugged.  Finally it was the middle-aged woman to my right that blurted out in an accent that was just bad enough to be comical,

“It is Christmas tree for us.”

And there you have it.  It was time for a drink after that.

Merry Christmas


4 thoughts on “Dining with dead leaves

  1. I, too, married a Serb. They are NOT Maple leaves, but rather Oak leaves.

    Merry Christmas! In Serbia and in many Eastern European countries, Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, according to the Julian calendar.
    On Christmas Eve, the Serbs celebrate Badnje Vece. This Christmas Eve tradition involves a badnjak – an oak tree or branch. One website says, “It is a custom that the father and the oldest son of a household go out on the morning of January 6 in search of the right badnjak. When it is found they return to the house and knock on the door. The mother opens the door. They enter while saying to the mother, “Welcome to you Badnje Vece!” They take the Badnjak to the fireplace and place it on the fire to augure good fortune. Serbs put coins, walnuts, almonds, and dry figs around the fireplace to represent the connection with earth. This also acts as gifts for the children. The traditional January 6th supper for Serbs is religious diatary meals, usually fish. Before going to bed it is very important for the Serbs to cover the badnjak with hot ash so that it will burn slowly to the following morning.”
    On Christmas morning the first person that enters the home is called polozajnik. This person offers a greeting for good luck during the year. Everybody gathers around the table while the father lights the candle. That moment marks the start of mirbozenje, which is peace and reconciliation. Participents then kiss one another at Christmas time whe saying: “Mir Bozji”. All disagreements are forgotten.
    The Christmas Day custom is to replace “Hello” with “Hristos se rodi” which means “Christ is born!” The reply to this is “Vaistinu se rodi” which means “Really born!”
    Christmas lunch is long, with many wonderful foods. Traditionally the most essential part of the Christmas dinner is a type of flat, round Christmas bread called cesnica. A coin is put in the bread during preparation. The person who gets the piece of bread with the coin inside is assured good fortune for the year.

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