Christmas is undoubtedly the most important holiday for all Christians, all over the globe. At the same time, it is the dearest celebration when we all feel the warmth and the cosiness being surrounded by our family. While some Christians have celebrated Christmas two weeks ago, others are having their feast only today – January 7th. The Balkans is the best region to visit if you want to understand how it looks like to celebrate Orthodox Christmas in January. Not only that you can celebrate New Year’s Eve twice, but you can also enjoy the Christmas spirit for the second time. An ultimate Orthodox Christmas celebration in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, will make you immerse into some forgotten traditions of this precious holiday.
Belgrade is such an amazing place to feel the magic of Orthodox Christmas, even if you come at the beginning of December. Just like in any other European city, this festive season is accompanied by the Christmas market situated at Belgrade’s main square (Trg Republike) and called “Open Heart Square”. This year’s particularity is the world’s most expensive Christmas tree, that caused a lot of polemics. Highly disputed 18-meters-high tree cost the city around 83,000 euros, while New York’s 20-meters-high Norwegian Spruce was only 62,000 euros.
More than 200 million Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate Christmas on January 7th due to its alignment with the Julian calendar. According to this calendar’s day calculations, that actually pre-dates the Gregorian one, December 25th is marked on January 7th. Therefore, Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on that day in many countries – Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Israel, Egypt, Ethiopia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia – just to mention some of them. The same rule applies when it comes to the New Year’s Eve that takes place on January 13th.
Christmas among Serbs is celebrated totally differently from Western European traditions. First of all, there is no gift giving and home decorating euphoria, hence no stress and no consumerism. However, the three Sundays before Christmas are devoted to firstly children then mothers and then fathers, where they are being tied up and asked for a symbolic ransom in order to be released.
Christmas in Belgrade is probably the most traditional that you could imagine. The celebration starts on Christmas Eve called “Badnji dan” (named after an oak branch, a sort of orthodox Christmas tree, collected in the nearby forest). In the past, this branch used to be burnt in houses in the evening of Christmas Eve, but nowadays it is placed on a fire in front of the largest Belgrade’s church – St. Sava Temple. This event is something truly unique and memorable for anyone who has the chance to attend it. It is followed by evening prayers and the Christmas mess that starts at midnight. So, if in Belgrade around those days, you shouldn’t miss wonderful Christmas Eve’s traditions.
Orthodox Christians start their Christmas preparations six weeks before the holiday, entering into a 40-day fast (meaning meats, eggs and dairy product are forbidden). Sacrificing their hedonistic side for such long period of time results in extremely lavish traditional foods consumed for Christmas. No feast can be without a roasted pig called “pečenica”. Another core dish is “česnica”, a Christmas bread with a coin hidden inside. As per tradition, the person who finds the coin in its slice will be fortunate in the following year.
If you are wondering when is the best time to visit Belgrade in order to feel it’s crazy and contagious energy, you should book your tickets between the December 31st and January 14th. In this period between two New Year Eve’s celebrations, when most of Europe gets half depressed, Belgrade becomes “the place to be” with fireworks, festivities and never-ending parties. Just in a halfway, you will be lucky to experience the ultimate Orthodox Christmas in Belgrade.
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