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Serbian Christmas Traditions

Serbian Christmas Traditions
by Mayor Georgine Welo and Alex Machaskee
December 2020

We asked community leaders of various ethnic heritages to share some holiday traditions of their culture. South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo and Cleveland International Hall of Fame inductee Alex Machaskee graciously shared with us.

Serbian Nativity Icon  	By Pschemp's property, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2171604

Serbian Nativity Icon


Mayor Welo said, "For Serbian Eastern Orthodox Christians there are many rituals, beliefs and customs connected to "Bozic'", the Serbian name for Christmas celebrated on January 7th. The day before Christmas, January 6th is called "Badnji Dan" and the evening "Badnji vece." It's the last day of the Nativity Fast.

My mom would spend the day cooking for the evening and the great holiday the next day. Smelt, Serbian Coleslaw, Shrimp, apple pita, etc. Nothing from a mammal is served on Christmas Eve when we would celebrate with our friends the Gells and at the same time we would smell the baking of the "Cesnica," our Christmas Day bread in which a coin is put in it.

Serbian Orthodox Christmas Bread by Laslovarga - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23675143

Serbian Orthodox Christmas Bread


Each year my grandmother and then my mother would place the sliced cesnica in the basket and I would peer into it hoping to pull out the piece with the lucky coin as it is believed that the one who finds a coin in his or her piece will have plenty of money all the year long. Even today, as my entire family gathers to celebrate Christmas there is great anticipation on who will find the coin!"

St Sava Christmas Eve Service

Past St Sava (Cleveland) Christmas Eve Service


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"Each Christmas Eve we join together on the grounds of our Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Cathedral and celebrate the burning of the "Badnjak" before we attend Christmas Vigil. In the old times, on Christmas Eve, an oak branch was burnt as a sacrifice to the gods Perun and Svetoid. In modern times the burning of the badnjak symbolizes Christ himself, whose teachings shines upon all the believers just like the burning badnjak shines in the dark.

serbian-badnjak-beograd.jpg By Lazar - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10010445

A Serbian Orthodox priest places the badnjak on a fire during a Christmas Eve celebration at the Temple of Saint Sava in Belgrade

Burning the yule log at St Sava Christmas Eve

Burning of the badnjak outside of St Sava Cathedral in Cleveland

St Sava Cathedral Choir Christmas Eve

St Sava Cathedral Choir on a past Christmas Eve


Following our Christmas Eve Vigil each family receives cut oak branches (badnjak) which are gathered by the men in our parish and decorated by our Sunday School Students with ribbons, crape paper, candies and walnuts. Watching with great anticipation like many I secretly always hope our parish priest hands me one tied with candy and ribbons.....all the while listening to the choir singing Christmas Carols and people greeting each other, "Hristos se Rodi" (Christ is Born) and "Voistinu se rodi"(Indeed he is born.")

Before heading back to our homes we gather together in our church hall and celebrate with drinking "hot rakija" (hot totties) and eating holiday sweets wishing each other the merriest of Christmas!

"Hristos se Rodi"

Alex Machaskee added, "Usually on the Serbian Christmas Eve, Jan. 6, there is the burning of the yule log or tree at both Serbian churches in Greater Cleveland. Children are treated to sweets and adults drink hot Serbian plum brandy."

An illustration of people collecting a Yule log from the Chambers Book of Days 1864

An illustration of people collecting a Yule log
from the Chambers Book of Days 1864


Hristos se Rodi



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