15 October 2020
Issued on: 2020-10-15
Size: 32 x 42 mm
Printing: Offset lithography
Denominations: 27 din, 70 din
Print run: 150,000 each design
Christmas is one of the most important and one of the most joyous Christian holidays, that is celebrated both by the Orthodox and Catholic believers. The difference is only in the date of the celebration; the Orthodox celebrate it on January 7th, and the Catholic on December 25th, but its message remains the same – the message of peace and love. We celebrate Christmas for three days. It is primarily family holiday, and there are numerous traditions and customs regarding Christmas. On the day before Christmas and Christmas Eve, the yule log is being brought into house, cresset lit and hay with hidden candies, prunes, walnuts, sugar and coins, spread all over the house. The hay is a symbol of the manger in which Christ was born. The yule log represents longevity and substance of Christianity, as well as of the warmth of the love Christ brought to us when he was born and arrived to the Earth. On the very day of the Christmas, early in the morning the church bells of all Orthodox temples are ringing, announcing the nativity of Christ. People go to church to attend Christmas liturgy and they all greet each other by “Christ has been born” and “Indeed he has”.
Expert collaboration: The Museum of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Belgrade. Artistic realisation of the issue: MA Marija Vlahović, academic graphic artist.
Serbian Christmas traditions are customs and practices of the Serbs associated with Christmas and a period encompassing it, between the third Sunday before Christmas Day and Epiphany. There are many, complex traditions connected with this period. They vary from place to place, and in many areas have been updated or watered down to suit modern living. The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić (Serbian Cyrillic: Божић, pronounced [ˈbɔ̌ʒitɕ]), which is the diminutive form of the word bog (“god”), and can be translated as “young god”. Christmas is celebrated for three consecutive days, starting with Christmas Day, which the Serbs call the first day of Christmas. On these days, one is to greet another person by saying “Christ is Born,” which should be responded to with “Truly He is Born,” or in Serbian: “Hristos se rodi” [ˈxristɔs sɛ ˈrɔdi] – “Vaistinu se rodi” [ˈʋaistinu sɛ ˈrɔdi].
In Serbia, the main Church is the Orthodox Church and they still use the old ‘Julian’ Calendar, which means that Christmas Eve is on 6th January and Christmas Day is on the 7th January. Advent in the Orthodox Church starts on 28th November and last for six weeks. During Advent, some people fast and they don’t eat food that comes from animals (meat, milk, eggs, etc.).
The countries of Serbia and Montenegro share many Christmas traditions.
On Christmas Eve (called ‘Badnji dan’ during the day and ‘Badnje veče’ after sunset), families gather and many people fast and don’t eat food that comes from animals. It is the last day of the Christmas fast. Christmas is a very religious holiday and most people go to the Christmas Services.
There are a lot of old Serbian traditions associated with the countryside, which have now lost their meaning because more people live in towns and cities. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the father of the family used to go to the forest to cut a young oak called the ‘Badnjak’ (Christmas Eve tree) but today people just buy one. The Badnjak is then burnt like a Yule Log.
There are sometimes large bonfires outside churches where oak branches and Badnjak are burnt.
On Christmas Day the dawn is greeted with church bells ringing and sometimes people firing guns into the air! The first person to enter a house on Christmas Day is called a položajnik and it’s thought to bring luck to the house and family. The položajnik is often pre-arranged. But if the family don’t have a good year, they don’t ask the same person back.
Early on Christmas morning, girls traditionally collected water to bring to their family. This was called ‘strong water’ and was meant to have special powers. People would drink some strong water and wash their faces in it before having breakfast.
At Christmas a special kind of bread is eaten. It’s called ‘cesnica’ and is made in a round shape. Sometimes it’s made using some of the ‘strong water’. Each member of the family gets a piece (and the house does too). There is a coin hidden in it and whoever gets the coin will be particularly fortunate in the next year.
Other popular Christmas dishes include pecenica (roast pork), sarma (cabbage stuffed with rice and ground meat) and lots of cakes.
Under the dinner table there should be some straw as a symbol of the stable/cave where Jesus was born. When the straw is spread out, some people make the noise of a chicken. Clucking like a chicken symbolises that Jesus wanted people to follow him like one big family (like chickens gather together!). It’s also common for a handful of walnuts to be spread on the straw.
In Serbian Happy/Merry Christmas is Hristos se rodi (Христос се роди) – Christ is born Vaistinu se rodi (Ваистину се роди) – truly born (reply).
People in Serbia also celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day, but on the 19th December. During the time when Serbia was under communist control (after World War II until about 20 years ago), the communist government didn’t like St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, so they had their own version called Grandfather Frost (Дедa Мрaз / Deda Mraz) or Christmas Brother (Божић Бата / Božić Bata), who came on New Year’s Eve.
Traditional Serbian customs have also mixed with western customs. For example people also have Christmas Trees but they are decorated on New Year’s Eve, not at Christmas!