Merry Christmas from Belgrade, Serbia!

St Sava Church, Belgarde, Serbia

I am sitting on the 3rd floor of my mum’s apartment in the city center of Belgrade and emailing all around the world wishing a Merry Christmas to all my friends scattered around the globe, from Rachel in Nepal who is doing charity work after being dumped yet again, to Elke in Thailand after being made redundant yet again, to Fran in London doing an MSc in Environmental Science after deciding that she had enough of travelling.  Out of sheer fun, I wish Merry Christmas to my friends in China even I know they don’t celebrate it. They do the same to me.

I can hear my mum on the phone to her brother in Holland and her best friend just across the river Danube which is just at the end of the number 706 bus in a different part of Belgrade and wish them a Merry Christmas too.

Despite the celebratory feelings we, the Serbian people, don’t actually celebrate Christmas on the 25th December. Our Christmas comes a bit later on the 7th January – some people in the West call us the “Eastern Catholics”. This is because of our use of the traditional Julian Calendar, under which December 25 falls on the Gregorian calendar’s January 7. The Julian calendar, a reform of the Roman calendar, was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC and it has a regular year of 365 days divided into 12 months, and a leap day is added to February every four years. Hence the Julian year is on average 365.25 days long.

The Gregorian solar calendar is an arithmetical calendar. It counts days as the basic unit of time, grouping them into years of 365 or 366 days; and repeats completely every 146,097 days, or 400 years, and which also happens to be 20,871 seven-day weeks. Of these 400 years, 303 (the “common years”) have 365 days, and 97 (the leap years) have 366 days. This gives an average year length of exactly 365.2425 days, or 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes and 12 seconds.

Basically, the only difference is that the Gregorian calendar is 13 days behind the Julian calendar.

During this festive time, you greet another person with “Christ is Born,” which should be responded to with “Truly He is Born.” The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić , which is the diminutive form of the word bog, meaning ‘god’

Most Serbian families celebrate the Christmas/New Year season with a Christmas tree in the house. The decoration of the tree is a very good opportunity to gather family members around, and the main tradition is for the head of the household to go into a forest on Christmas Eve (6th January) preferably before sunrise, or at least before noon, to select a young and straight oak tree and a log cut from it is in the evening ceremoniously put on the domestic fire. A bundle of straw is taken into the house and spread over the floor.

On Christmas Day, (7th January) the celebration is announced at dawn by church bells and by shooting. Huge importance is given to the first visit a family receives that day. People expect that it will bring prosperity and well-being for their household in the ensuing year; this visit is often pre-arranged. Christmas dinner is the most celebratory meal a family has during a year. A special, festive loaf of bread is baked for this occasion, and the main course is roast pork . It is not traditional in Serbia to exchange gifts at Christmas. Gift giving is, nevertheless, connected with the holiday, being traditionally done on the three Sundays that immediately precede it. Children, women, and men, respectively, are the set gift-givers on these three days. Closely related to Christmas is New Year’s Day by the Julian calendar (January 14 on the Gregorian calendar), whose traditional folk name is Little Christmas.

I wont be in Belgrade for little Christmas but I am sure I will celebrate it in London with my friends Rachel, Elke, Fran….

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