Tonight is Christmas Eve in Serbia and the last day of 40 fasting days before Christmas. According to tradition, today’s lunch is a lenten lunch which usually consists of soup, fish, stuffed wine leaves, beans and salads and during the day we also eat dried fruit, walnuts, red wine and honey. Before lunch the tradition is to bring into the house a branch of an oak tree which symbolises the tree brought by a shepherd and given to Joseph and Mary to make a fire in the stable where Jesus was born. In the villages around Serbia the branch of oak is cut in the forest but in the big cities it’s usually bought at the market or in church, and it is burned tonight to represent light and warmth bringing a new beginning. There are lots of traditions which symbolise Jesus’s birth, for example, it’s good to bring straw into the house to symbolise the crib in which Jesus was born, and to have coins scattered around the house similar to the gold coins given to Jesus by one of the Kings.
Tomorrow is Christmas Day and according to tradition, we go to the midnight liturgy, then in the morning a guest (ideally a young healthy male!) is allowed into the house on this day, bringing the new year. The greeting on the Christmas Day is Hristos se rodi which means Jesus is born – the reply is Vaistinu se rodi which means Verily is born. After returning from the morning liturgy the custom is to serve a Christmas lunch which means the end of the 40-day long fast. The feast starts with prayer, lighting a candle and incense. Lunch is different rotiserie meats, lots of cakes, salads and drinks, and a loaf of home-baked bread in which is hidden a coin – whoever finds it can expect lots more money during the coming year! The custom is to exchange presents and spend the whole day at home, visiting friends and family the next day.
Churches that follow the Julian Calendar celebrate Christmas Day on 7th January – Serbian Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Jerusalem Church, Egyptian Kopti, some Etiophians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Macedonias and Montenegrians.